Grossman has a wonderful capacity to imagine the minds and feelings of animals, and while chronicling the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man, doesn’t forget to notice cruelty to animals, nor their staunch resilience and cleverness.
In this short story, he traces the experience of a mule hauled into war by the Italians, first sent to Abyssinia and then to the other end of the climate spectrum, to the Russian steppe. Its vastness has him thinking about infinity, being and time, in wordless images and feelings.
He is later rescued from this existential indifference by … ah, but read the story.
‘The mule’s large, spacious brain, used to conceiving vague images of smells, of form, and of color, was now conceiving an image of something very different, an image of a concept created by philosophers and mathematicians, an image of infinity itself – of the misty Russian plain and cold autumn rain pouring down over it without end …
To be or not to be – to Giu this was a matter of indifference. The mule had resolved Hamlet’s dilemma.
Having become submissively indifferent to both existence and nonexistence, he lost the sensation of time.’
Source: Vasily Grossman, ‘The Road’, The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Mukovnikova, afterword Fyodor Guber (New York: New York Review Books, 2010), pp. 228-229
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