Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris, “Burdened by Evil or forty years later”

They are all surgeons and enforcers. Not a single therapist.

Essential book information

Basic plot summary

In a typical Strugatsky’s manner, the novel takes the reader through 3 intertwined stories. The first storyline is a diary of the student of a fictional elite pedagogical lyceum. It tells us about the events of generational and cultural disagreements he is witnessing. The second storyline is the manuscript the student reads between the diary entries and the first storyline events. The third storyline is a mix of biblical and evangelical stories and ideas.

Review

In this book, Strugatsky invite you to explore several essential topics – the idea of a Teacher (referred to as a Superhuman and a Therapist), the concept of equal, non-interventional and non-judgemental society and the idea of alternatives to widely accepted truths.

During the course of reading, we understand that the second storyline is depicting the Second Coming of Christ (referred to as Demiurge in the book) who has arrived in search of a Superhuman, a Therapist, who can cure people’s souls of evil. The central (and a bit controversial) protagonist of the first storyline turns up at the end of the second storyline as exactly this potential therapist.

One of the most powerful quotes of the book is where the Demiurge says to his secretary: “They are all surgeons and enforcers. Not a single therapist.”

Every storyline works to explain this quote in different ways, bringing in various arguments and storytelling tools. However, the result is the same – the reader is encouraged to think about society, the educational systems and processes, and the values the community expects us to live.

My recommendation

Burdened by Evil is by far my favourite Strugatsky book, topping even Monday starts at Saturday and Roadside Picnic. I have deep personal sympathy for the idea of a pedagogical system that would create teachers able to excite and involve their pupils. Such teachers would equip their pupils with an understanding of their true nature and calling and the courage to pursue it instead of moulding the socially acceptable form out of them. Free of the pressure to fit in, such students would inevitably contribute to a community where no one is left outside.

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