A poignant and unexpectedly inspirational account of women’s suffering and resilience in Stalin’s forced labor camps, diligently transcribed in the kitchens and living rooms of nine survivors.
The pain inflicted by the gulags has cast a long and dark shadow over Soviet-era history. Zgustová’s collection of interviews with former female prisoners not only chronicles the hardships of the camps, but also serves as testament to the power of beauty in face of adversity.
Where one would expect to find stories of hopelessness and despair, Zgustová has unearthed tales of the love, art, and friendship that persisted in times of tragedy. Across the Soviet Union, prisoners are said to have composed and memorized thousands of verses. Galya Sanova, born in a Siberian gulag, remembers reading from a hand-stitched copy of Little Red Riding Hood. Irina Emelyanova passed poems to the male prisoner she had grown to love. In this way, the arts lent an air of humanity to the women’s brutal realities.
These stories, collected in the vein of Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize-winning oral histories, turn one of the darkest periods of the Soviet era into a song of human perseverance, in a way that reads as an intimate family history.