Our Notes & References
First edition of this important collection of stories on Soviet labour camps, which Shalamov (1907-82), a poet and man of letters on the wrong side of the Soviet authorities, experienced repeatedly during the entire reign of Stalin, from 1929 to the early 50s.
Kolyma, where Shalamov spent most of his sentences, is a remote, sub-arctic region of north-eastern Siberia, where gold and platinum were discovered shortly before the Russian revolution. During the intensive industrialisation under Stalin, Kolyma became the most notorious region for the Gulag labour camps: a “pole of cold and cruelty” in the Gulag system as Solzhenitsyn described it. The celebrated poet Osip Mandelshtam died in 1938 on the way there, in a transit camp where Shalamov had been about a year earlier: the latter wrote Sherry Brandy, a short story of this tragic end, which was included in these Kolyma Tales.
A “collection of brief sketches, vignettes, and short stories, [Kolyma Tales] chronicles the degradation and dehumanization of prison-camp life. Written in understated and straightforward documentary style, the tales contain almost no philosophical or political nuances.” (Encycl. Brit.) The work, written during almost 20 years in the 1950s and 60s, is based on two areas: personal experiences and fictional accounts of stories heard. Shalamov attempted to mix fact and fiction, which leads to the book being something of a historical novel. The style used is similar to Chekhov’s, in which a story is told objectively and leaves the readers to make their own interpretations. Often brutal and shocking, the matter-of-fact style makes them appear more hard-hitting than using a sensationalist style. The stories are based around the life of the prisoners (political or professional) in the camp and their relations with the officials.
Shalamov managed to smuggle manuscripts out of the USSR, and a few stories were first published in émigré journals such as Grani in the early 1970s. This is the first edition of the collection, publishing some stories for the first time. It mentions also that it was published without the author’s consent, to protect Shalamov, who had been forced to write a public letter denouncing publication of his work abroad. With an introduction by Michael Heller. Publication was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.
A very good example, with provenance: from the library of Aleksandr Dolberg, aka David Burg, who spent most of his life in the UK after having emigrated from the USSR in the 1950s. A man of letters, he wrote many literary articles and presented various radio programmes in the West, usually linked with literature, émigrés and the USSR. He published the first English translation of Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward and fought constantly against the accusation of being a Soviet agent. He co-authored (with George Feifer) Solzhenitsyn: A Biography (1972). Among his friends were dissidents Andrei Sinyavsky and Igor Golomstock.
Acquired directly from the estate of Aleksandr Dolberg (1933-2021), aka David Burg.
Sesliavinskii, TamIzdat 94.