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Depicts the brutality of the gulag in many short stories
on August 29, 2015
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.