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Kolyma Tales (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Paperback


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Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin edition (February 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140186956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140186956
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Russian (translation)

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Customer Reviews

I read this book out of the recommendation of my russian friend.
simone Orwell
This book should make us sad at the true nature of human existence and how a social system can be designed to make our darker nature the dominant feature.
C. B Collins Jr.
I have purchased Shalamov's short story compilation in 1989 in Hungarian edition.
Polinger Attila

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 10, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Survivor of that time, that place." Anna Akhmatova, Requiem.

Varlam Shalamov was a survivor of 17 years in the work camps of that time and that place known as Kolyma. Upon his return to Moscow Shalamov crafted a series of short stories that memorialized his time in Stalin's labor camps. Those 54 stories were not published in the USSR but were circulated widely in samizdat form. They were publshed in the west as The Kolyma Tales. They are exquisitely well crafted, powerful, and moving.

Shalamov's prose style is sparse and to the point. The dry recounting of horror after horror has quite an impact on the reader. In fact, the level of passion in Shalamov's writing seems inversely proportional to the nature of the scenes he paints; the more horrific the tale the less emotional the writing. This is certainly an effective style. Some facts do not need embellishment. The stories speak for themselves.

Shalamov also does not tell the reader how to interpret a story. He simply tells a tale. Unlike Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn, who had a tendency to tell a story and then advise the reader what lessons should be drawn from it, Shalamov simply tells a story. In that sense his stories can be compared to Anton Chekhov and Isaac Babel.

It would be impossible to summarize each individual story in a short review. However, each was compelling in its own way. I was particularly struck by a few of them. The story "In the Night" concerns two men who sneak out of their barracks at night to dig up the grave of a newly deceased fellow prisoner. Why? Because the wanted to steal his relatively new underwear so they could trade it in for bread and tobacco and perhaps live an extra day longer.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By C. B Collins Jr. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 26, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Varlam Shalamov's style is minimal, brutal, and straight-forward. He does not preach to his reader about terror, torture, death, and injustice. Rather, he describes the horrible experiences he endured in short stories that are far more like eye witness narratives than the typical short story. He does not need to tell you that cutting off a man's hands is a terrible crime, he just describes the actions and allows the reader to absorb the impact as they read the cold, hard narrative. Life in Kolyma had no frills and lace, and neither does Shalamov's narrative style.

I think this book would make excellent classroom reading and discussion for high school seniors. I say this primarily because of the exposure to the Soviet system of social control, especially between 1936-1956. Understanding totalitarianism and social control should be part of our education of our youth. I also think that Shalamov counters the concept that suffering is redemptive. Rather, Shalamov indicates that extreme hunger, torture, work, beatings, exhaustion, cold, and experience of arbitrary death and injustice gradually destroys any human being, depriving them of uplifting emotions, imagination, creativity, and finally empathy and a sense of self survival.

Shalamov carefully demonstrates this loss of our humanity under conditions of extreme torture, exhaustion, hunger and cold by showing character after character disintegrating in unique but common ways. In general, empathy and sympathy are gradually dissolved in the horror of their experiences and are replaced by a depressed apathy. Rarely does he show the downward spiral to go from nobility to criminal cruelty. Rather, his characters become devoid of emotions, both positive and eventually even negative, before they give up.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By S. F Gulvezan on January 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Another reviewer has written that the English translation of these stories pales besides the Russian original. If that is so, I wish I could read Russian, because the stories in the English translation are among the best I have ever read. This book, tales of life in the Soviet GULAG, stands shoulder to shoulder with Tadeusz Borowski's THIS WAY FOR THE GAS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, which is composed of tales of life in Auschwitz, as the finest examples I have read of stories of man's inhumanity to man told in such an understated fashion that, once read, they are unforgettable. Shalamov was a genius.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
I first read Shalamov's book many years ago as a teenager and have never forgotten it. Now I live and work in the former Soviet Union, not far from the site of the camp where Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, but a very long way from the Kolyma, which Solzhenitzyn himself said was the "pole of suffering". I see the effects of the old system in people every day - the emotional, psychological, moral, spiritual catastrophies that mar individual's lives even today in 1999. Read Shalamov's book and think quietly.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By yborodovsk@aol.com on November 30, 1998
Format: Paperback
By simple count John Glad chose to through out about 15% of actual words from the Shalamov book (Compare "On Tick" for example if you know Russian and English). Without those words that "translator" obviously considered unnecessary book of great literature became mediocre exercise in horrors of Gulag. What a hatchet job! What a shame! If anyone can point me to a decent translation, I'll appreciate it.
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