Josephine Newbury and her husband, Joseph moved from the hinterland - defined as a 'hint of land, the term they used to dismiss their birthplace, that endless suburban non-ness' - in the big city. They need a new luck and a new life, a better one.
She've found a job at a company where her main task was to enter and update information into a Database. She shall pay attention to the names, letters and punctuations, while working in an office where she is not allowed to hang anything on the walls and to take dinner on her desk, fully enjoying every day 'the lonesomeness of the bureaucrat's lunch'. She is not supposed to disclose the nature and location of her work.
'Every morning, the Database awaited her like a living thing, luminous and familiar, alongside stacks of gray files'.
Most of the other employees are like ghosts in grey suits and her boss is the 'Man with Bad Breath'. She is lonely but keep working as this is her main source of revenue and unemployment - again - is not an option. Until one day, she had a revelation about the nature of her work. 'Things get closed out when the time comes for them to get closed out'. In fact, by introducing data in the Database she is assigning people to die. Once the numbers are becoming flesh, and are assigned stories, her interest in work decreases and her newly awakened conscience is burning her quiet times in the front of the Database. Josephine doesn't want to be 'the bureaucratic queen of death dates', but taking off is lonesome and confusing. In just a couple of months of work for the Database, she started to share the lunacy and hypocrisy of her working environment'.
On the other end of the building though, her husband was in charge of a different mission: assigning birth dates, and his attempt to create bureaucratically their own child failed. Because her wife, figured out that he is supposed to dead, stole his file and attempted to save him, in a brave act turned against the grey suits.
In the end, the errors will be corrected and the everyday rhythm in the build will return to normal after the two intruders are fired.
The fantasy story within a bureaucratic context has many literary influences, among which Calvino, Saramago and Kafka too, but in the end, there is the author's creativity which originally created the trademark. The writing is well-paced, ironic cold, mostly descriptive and with a certain neutral sobriety. All the characters in this book are lonesome in their own right, alienated and rather the objects than the subjects of their lives.
I've read somewhere that The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a critical stance against capitalism. Socialism needs bureaucracy too, it only might be a bit less organised and more absurd - if there are degrees of comparison of this measure of reality. Bureaucracy is cruel, lunatic and self-sufficient because it has a logic that often goes beyond the human - feelings-inflused - logic. We are all a number in a vaste database and stories, emotions and memories are their biggest enemy. They - the bureaucrats and the state they serve - need it, but we can live without it. The story of The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a reminder to keep ourselves alive, regardless what the database assigns for or against us.
Rating: 4 stars