IN A recent essay published in the Russian emigre journal Kontinent and titled “The Literary Process in Russia,” Andrei Sinyavsky points out that labor camps and prisons are the predominant theme of the manuscripts that circulate unofficially in the Soviet Union. It is easy to understand why. Since the revolution in 1917, imprisonment and its effects have been, for Soviet writers, either the most overwhelming personal experience or a metaphor for life itself. In 1962, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn published his novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (the first officially permitted exploration of a prisoner’s fate), the bookstores were besieged by customers and the publishing houses engulfed by a flood of manuscripts about life in Stalin’s prisons and labor camps. Only a relative handful were published before the regime decided that things had gone far enough.
About the Author