Stalinist Zen

Tamaru was silent again for a moment, and then spoke. “Have you heard about the final tests given to candidates to become interrogators for Stalin’s secret police?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“A candidate would be put in a square room. The only thing in the room is an ordinary small wooden chair. And the interrogator’s boss gives him an order. He says, ‘Get this chair to confess and write up a report on it. Until you do this, you can’t leave this room.'”

“Sounds pretty surreal.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s not surreal at all. It’s a real story. Stalin actually did create that kind of paranoia, and some ten million people died on his watch – most of them his fellow countrymen. And we actually live in that kind of world. Don’t ever forget that.”

“You’re full of heart warming stories, aren’t you.”

“Not really, I just have a few set aside, just in case. I never received a formal education. I just learned whatever looked useful, as I experienced it. Whenever there’s hope there’s a trial. You’re exactly right. Absolutely. Hope, however is limited, and generally abstract, while there are countless trials, and they tend to be concrete. That is also something I had to learn on my own.”

“So what kind of confession did the interrogator candidates extract from the chairs?”

“That is a question definitely worth considering,” Tamaru said. “Sort of like a Zen koan.”

“Stalinist Zen,” Aomame said.

After a short pause, Tamaru hung up.

From “1Q84” by Haruki Murakami