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by Varlam Shalamov

  • ISBN: 039300077X
  • Category: Fiction
  • Author: Varlam Shalamov
  • Subcategory: Genre Fiction
  • Other formats: docx mbr rtf azw
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc (February 1, 1982)
  • Pages: 222 pages
  • FB2 size: 1515 kb
  • EPUB size: 1608 kb
  • Rating: 4.5
  • Votes: 583
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VARLAM SHALAMOV (1907–1982) was born in Vologda in western Russia to a Russian Orthodox priest and his wife. After being expelled from law school for his political beliefs, Shalamov worked as a journalist in Moscow.

VARLAM SHALAMOV (1907–1982) was born in Vologda in western Russia to a Russian Orthodox priest and his wife. In 1929, he was arrested at an underground printshop and sentenced to three years’ hard labor in the Ural Mountains, where he met his first wife, Galina Gudz. The two returned to Moscow after Shalamov’s release in 1931; they were married in 1934 and had a daughter, Elena, in 1935.

Kolyma Tales (Russian: Колымские рассказы, Kolymskiye rasskazy) is the name given to six collections of short stories by Russian author Varlam Shalamov, about labour camp life in the Soviet Union. He began working on this book in 1954 and continued until 1973. Shalamov was born in 1907 and was arrested in 1929 while he was a student at Moscow University for attempting to publish Lenin's Testament.

Varlam Shalamov, who wrote the collection of short stories, Kolyma Tales, over the course of 20 years, also seemed to predict the rise of bloggers. He wrote: People with different jobs that have a talent for writing, not professional writers, will start speaking out. He expected that believability and reliability would become the sources of real power for literature in the future.

Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov was born in 1907. Shalamov did manage to smuggle Kolyma Tales out to the West, and they were published in German and French (and only much later in English). A prose writer and poet, he has become known chiefly for his Kolyma Tales, in which he describes life in the Soviet forced-labour camps in north eastern Siberia. The Soviet authorities then forced him to sign a statement, published in Literaturnaya gazeta in 1972, in which he stated that the topic of Kolyma Tales was no longer relevant after the Twentieth Party Congress, ‘that he had never sent out any manuscripts, and that he was a loyal Soviet citizen’.

Writing his book Varlam Shalamov was this man beating a road down through the virgin snow so the others could read it and follow in the footsteps of his memory. Slowly Glebov licked the bowl and brushed the breadcrumbs methodically from the table into his left palm.

Next, Varlam Shalamov. After his release, he began writing stories about his experiences in Kolyma. They became valued underground samizdat literature within Soviet Russia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, younger by eleven years, admired Shalamov and asked him to collaborate on his "Gulag Archipelago", but Shalamov declined, citing old age and declining energy.

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It seemed that all you had to do was to kick one of the wooden walls and its logs would collapse, disintegrate. But the block did not collapse and all seven cells did faithful service. But the block did not collapse and all seven cells did faithful service loudly spoken word could be heard by one’s neighbors, but the inmates of the block were afraid of punishment. If the guard on duty marked the cell with a chalk X, the cell was deprived of hot food. Two Xs meant no bread as well. The block was used for camp offenses; anyone suspected of something more dangerous was taken away to Central Control.

Varlam Shalamov was one of the most powerful chroniclers of the gulags. The first reliable translation into English of Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales only appeared in 1980, two years before the writer’s death in a psychiatric hospital. But interest in Shalamov has grown.

Selected stories based on Shalamov's seventeen years imprisoned in a camp in the Kolyma region of Siberia portray individual moments in the lives of men whose hopes and plans extend no further than a few hours
Reviews about Kolyma Tales (7):
First, Kolyma. Until recently, I didn't know what or where it is. Kolyma is a vast region in the far northeast of Siberia. Much of it is taken up by the basin of the Kolyma River, which flows north into the Arctic Ocean, and part of it is above the Arctic Circle. The region is notoriously frigid, with temperatures as low as sixty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Kolyma also is an area of huge mineral resources, most notably gold. In the 1850's Tsarist Russia began using convicts to mine that gold. Under Stalin, mining Kolyma gold with prisoners became a booming growth industry. The forced-labor camps of Kolyma were the worst, the most lethal, of the camps within the Gulag Archipelago. It is estimated that between two and three million of those sent to Kolyma died there.

Next, Varlam Shalamov. From 1937 to 1951, Shalamov (b. 1907, d. 1982) was a political prisoner in Kolyma facilities, including gold mines, logging camps, and a hospital, where he worked as an orderly (a fortuitous assignment that saved his life). After his release, he began writing stories about his experiences in Kolyma. They became valued underground samizdat literature within Soviet Russia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, younger by eleven years, admired Shalamov and asked him to collaborate on his "Gulag Archipelago", but Shalamov declined, citing old age and declining energy.

Finally, KOLYMA TALES, which is the umbrella name for the five books of stories and essays about Kolyma that Shalamov wrote. All five are included in this edition, which was edited and translated by John Glad, who had a lot to do with bringing Shalamov to the attention of the West. Shalamov's stories are much different in tone and style than Solzhenitsyn's work, so different that it is difficult to conceive how they could have successfully collaborated as co-authors. Shalamov's tales are concise, with very little editorializing or lecturing. They are matter-of-fact, seldom outwardly condemnatory or judgmental. They have been said to be in the tradition and style of Chekhov. Based almost entirely on things that Shalamov personally experienced or that he heard about during his time in the Gulag, the Kolyma tales (unfortunately) are less fictitious than all-too-many so-called books of non-fiction. If you want to know what the Gulag was like, Shalamov is as good a guide as Solzhenitsyn.

Here is a representative sampling of episodes in KOLYMA TALES: a team of prisoners pulling a stone-filled sled up an inclined mine floor by leaning into a horse collar -- a means used to construct the monuments of Ancient Egypt; collecting dwarf cedar needles in the Siberian taiga to make an extract that supposedly cured scurvy (it didn't); the "last man out" method of efficiently clearing prisoners from their barracks on the top of a steep hill in order to go to work in the mine at the bottom -- the guards would seize the last man out the door by the hands and feet and throw him down the icy hill; and the use of American "Lend-Lease" supplies during World War II, most notably bulldozers to bury frozen convict corpses in mass graves.

My only complaint is the minor amount of repetition that results from grouping together what Shalamov originally issued in five separate books. Still, there are certain themes or leitmotifs that merit repeating: the absurdity, stupidity, and cruelty of the Soviet bureaucracy; the vast gulf between the criminals and the political prisoners; the twisted configurations that the hands and fingers of Kolyma prisoners assumed after months curled around the handles of shovels and pickaxes in sub-zero weather; and the saying I have used for the title of this review, a phrase that embodies the stoicism that prisoners learned to assume.

"All human emotions -- love, friendship, envy, concern for one's fellow man, compassion, longing for fame, honesty -- had left us with the flesh that had melted from our bodies during their long fasts. * * * We had no pride, vanity, or ambition, and jealousy and passion seemed as alien to us as Mars, and trivial in addition. It was much more important to learn to button your pants in the frost. Grown men cried if they weren't able to do that. We understood that death was no worse than life, and we feared neither. We were overwhelmed by indifference."
Having read the GULAG accounts of Alexandr Solzhenytsin, Yevgenia Ginzberg and now Varlam Shalamov and the brutal repression of the political 'Enemies Of The People' under Article 58, how was it that the criminals, the 'Friends of the People ' were for the most part left to themselves and conduct 'business as usual.' Have we discovered that there was a group of people in the Soviet Union that even Stalin didn't want to upset with their wide web of members throughout the USSR. If Beria and the NKVD needed more slaves to dig in the Kolyma they had plenty of bodies in the thieves and common criminals already in custody. Why the arrests and forced confessions about someone you might have been neighbors with 10 years ago that would warrant you a 25 year sentance. This is shear lunacy but is the trademark of any socialist political system. And as we know, the beloved, soon-to-be-rehabilitated Father Stalina, the personal builder of the great Soviet state, was only paranoid about the people who were a direct threat to his personal power. Shalomov gives a personal day-to-day account of survival under the most brutal of locations.
'The zeks were never allowed to see a thermometer but they were forced to work whatever the weather conditions and any residents of the Kolyma could tell how cold it was just by the weather. If there was a frosty fog, that meant it was -40°C. If you exhaled in a rasping fashion, it was -50°. If there was a rasping and it was difficult to breath it was -60°. After -60° spit froze in mid-air. Spit had been freezing in mid-air for over three weeks.'
As he admits, he survived only because of the good fortune that helped to get him into some of the easier camp jobs although death lurked around every daily incident if he would happen to lose his indoor job and be sent back to the mines. A good accounting of how low a political system will bend to glorify itself when it regards it's people as 'the replaceable cogs in the mechanism.'
I agree with the excellent reviews concerning Kolyma Tales. But I can add to Shalamovs description of the gulag. A few times he mentioned that political prisoners had the hardest time in the gulag because they had ideals and came from better circumstances than the typical prisoner. Within only a few months in the gulag they come to a shocking realization that they have abandoned their values and ideals simply to survive. They cannot believe who they have turned into.
The brutallity of the heavy labor was such that if any prisoner ended up in the hospital they did everything possible to make their condition worse or atleast not get better, If they have a cut, they would tear the wound open and shove dirt in to create infections etc.. In one story, the men were in a hospital, but were looking for a way out from working in a gold mine. A group of them got together some bread scraps so they could buy a stick of dynamite from another prisoner. They then proceed to all put one hand on the stick of dynamite and blow their fingers off. After they blew their fingers off they were elated, because they now will not have to work in the gold mines. That certainly illustrates how bad life was in the gulag.

My great uncle ended up in Siberia for 10 years, survived, and was able to return to his country Latvia. Interestingly in Kolyma Tales, Latvians were mentioned a couple times, and typically they all died because they were big (need more food) in comparison to the typical Russian prisoner.

This book is a collection of short stories, most of which are about 3 – 6 pages each.

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