Earlier this week, Russian human rights organizations led memorial ceremonies to remember people who were imprisoned and killed during the Stalin-era repression. I remember some Russians telling me in the early ‘90s that they had gotten over the trauma of learning about the millions of deaths of the Soviet period. The necessity of reading Solzhenitsyn, one man told me, has passed. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now.
I've listed below some works of fiction that look at Soviet-era repression from varying perspectives. Rather than writing a lot about them, I’ve linked titles and author names to background information and reviews, many of which make for interesting reading themselves, as reflections of their times and their writers.
В круге первом (The First Circle) and Один день Ивана Денисовича (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The First Circle is a long novel that looks at life in a sharashka, basically a scientific lab staffed by prisoners. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is much shorter and details the difficulties of prison camp.
Дети Арбата (Children of the Arbat), by Anatolii Rybakov, leads off a trilogy that chronicles what happens when a young man is exiled for making “mistakes.” As one Russian reader noted on an Internet forum, the book reads along easily but is difficult to take because Rybakov wrote truthfully, leaving an unpleasant feeling about what happens. The trilogy, particularly the first volume, is well worth the time and the unpleasant feelings.
Also:Good books about other time periods include Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Записки из мёртвого дома (House of the Dead), which includes some very descriptive and emotional scenes of prison life, and poet Irina Ratushinskaya’s memoir about imprisonment during the Brezhnev era, Серый – цвет надежды (Gray Is the Color of Hope).
Books mentioned in this posting:
Kolyma Tales (Twentieth-Century Classics)
The First Circle (European Classics)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel
Children of the Arbat
Sofia Petrovna (European Classics)
The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956
Journey into the Whirlwind (Helen and Kurt Wolff Books)
Hope Against Hope: A Memoir
Memoirs from the House of the Dead (Oxford World's Classics (Oxford University Press).)
Grey Is Color of Hope