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Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag [Paperback]

Orlando Figes
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jan 2013

From Orlando Figes, international bestselling author of A People's Tragedy, Just Send Me Word is the moving true story of two young Russians whose love survived Stalin's Gulag.

Lev and Svetlana, kept apart for fourteen years by the Second World War and the Gulag, stayed true to each other and exchanged thousands of secret letters as Lev battled to survive in Stalin's camps. Using this remarkable cache of smuggled correspondence, Orlando Figes tells the tale of two incredible people who, swept along in the very worst of times, kept their devotion alive.

Orlando Figes was granted exclusive access to the thousands of letters between Lev and Sveta that form the foundation of Just Send Me Word, and he was able to interview the couple in person, then in their nineties. These real-time and largely uncensored letters form the largest cache of Gulag letters ever found.

Reviews:

'One is overcome with admiration for the kindness, bravery and generosity of people in terrible peril ... It is impossible to read without shedding tears' Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times

'This powerful narrative by a distinguished historian will take its place not just in history but in literature' Robert Massie

'Electrifying, passionate, devoted, despairing, exhilarating ... a tale of hope, resilience, grit and love' The Times

'Moving ... a remarkable discovery' Max Hastings, Sunday Times

'The gulag story lacks individuals for us to sympathise with: a Primo Levi, an Anne Frank or even an Oskar Schindler. Just Send Me Word may well be the book to change that' Oliver Bullough, Independent

'Immensely touching ... [a] heartening gem of a book' Anna Reid, Literary Review

'The remarkable true story of a love affair between two Soviet citizens ... as much a literary challenge as a historical one: the book can be read as a non-fiction novel' Telegraph

'Remarkable ... Figes, selecting and then interpreting this mass of letters, makes them tell two kinds of story. The first is a uniquely detailed narrative of the gulag, of the callous, slatternly universe which consumed millions of lives ... The second is about two people determined not to lose each other' Neal Ascherson, Guardian

'A quiet, moving and memorable account of life in a totalitarian state ... The book often reads like a novel ... captivating' Evening Standard

'Orlando Figes has wrought something beautiful from dark times' Ian Thomson, Observer

'A heart-rending record of extraordinary human endurance' Kirkus Reviews

'[A] remarkable tale of love and devotion during the worst years of the USSR ... [Figes's] fine narrative pacing enhances this moving, memorable story' Publishers Weekly

About the author:

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of Peasant Russia, Civil War, A People's Tragedy, Natasha's Dance, The Whisperers and Crimea. He lives in Cambridge and London. His books have been translated into over twenty languages.


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Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag + The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia + A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 Jan 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0241955904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241955901
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 204,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. His books include The Whisperers, A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance. He lives in Cambridge.

Product Description

Review

A poignant record ... as fascinating and inspiring as it is heartbreaking ... It is impossible to read without shedding tears (Simon Sebag Montefiore Financial Times)

This powerful narrative by a distinguished historian will take its place not just in history but in literature (Robert Massie)

Electrifying, passionate, devoted, despairing, exhilarating ... a tale of hope, resilience, grit and love (The Times)

Remarkable ... moving... possesses extraordinary value ... a notable contribution to Gulag literature (Max Hastings Sunday Times)

Immensely touching ... [a] heartening gem of a book (Anna Reid Literary Review)

The remarkable true story of a love affair between two Soviet citizens ... as much a literary challenge as a historical one: the book can be read as a non-fiction novel (Telegraph)

Figes has achieved something extraordinary ... the gulag story lacks individuals for us to sympathise with: a Primo Levi, an Anne Frank or even an Oskar Schindler. Just Send Me Word may well be the book to change that ... the kind of love that most of us can only dream of (Oliver Bullough Independent)

Remarkable ... Figes, selecting and then interpreting this mass of letters, makes them tell two kinds of story. The first is a uniquely detailed narrative of the gulag, of the callous, slatternly universe which consumed millions of lives ... The second is about two people determined not to lose each other (Neal Ascherson Guardian)

A quiet, moving and memorable account of life in a totalitarian state ... The book often reads like a novel ... captivating (Evening Standard)

Orlando Figes has wrought something beautiful from dark times (Ian Thomson Observer)

A heart-rending record of extraordinary human endurance (Kirkus Reviews)

[A] remarkable tale of love and devotion during the worst years of the USSR ... [Figes's] fine narrative pacing enhances this moving, memorable story (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

Orlando Figes is the author of "The Crimean War," "The Whisperers," "Natasha's Dance," and "A People's Tragedy," which have been translated into more than twenty languages. The recipient of the Wolfson History Prize and the "Los Angeles Times" Book Prize, among others, Figes is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing but strangely detached 20 Nov 2012
By Zip Domingo VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an intriguing book and an at times fascinating glimpse behind the Soviet iron curtain and the often arbitary terrors of the gulag are charted here with clever precision.

That has of course a lot to do with Orlando Figes skills as a writer- I often think he could make a recipe for rice pudding sound interesting- but that skill is also what carries off a book that is still decidedly lumpy. To be honest I really couldn't develop any empathy for, or deep understanding of the two central characters and it pains me to say it, but these may be some of the most mundane love letters I've ever read.

So if you are a student of the soviet system and fascinated by the gulags and the socio-political contradictions of a communist ideal twisted into the horrors of Stalinism, then this is a good charting of all that. An emotive love story however, it is not, and to my mind this book is too heavy on the letter extracts, which at the end to my shame I ended up skim reading and then at times simply skipping. I would rather have had more Figes and less 'ramblings' and so the book should have, by rights, have been about half the length. Then, perhaps, it would have packed a bit more of an emotive punch.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Send Me Word 21 May 2012
By S Riaz HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is the moving story of the love affair between Lev and Sveta, who first met while taking the entrance exam at Moscow University in 1935 and only ended with their death in old age. What makes this story extraordinary is that they were kept apart, first by WWII and then by Lev's sentence to ten years in a Gulag on his return to the Soviet Union. During all these years, they kept their love alive by infrequent, and often perilous, meetings and thousands of letters. What makes the letters even more important, is that they were often smuggled into and out of the camp, avoiding the censors and making them a fascinating record of life both within the Gulag itself and in state controlled Moscow during the years of the Cold War.

Both Lev and Sveta seemed to be very sensible people; when they first met they were studying physics, which Sveta continued to work in for most of her life and they were both careful not to burden each other with negative feelings during their time apart. During the war Sveta found herself evacuated, along with her colleages, so they could continue their work away from the front lines. Meanwhile, Lev was taken prisoner and, at the end of the war was sent on a death march from Buchenwald. Forced into a force confession he then found himself sentenced to ten years in a Gulag near the Artic Circle. From 1946 until his release in 1954 his life was that of a prisoner. At first he was unsure about whether to contact Sveta or not, not even sure that she was still alive and unwilling to pressurise her with his feelings when he was a prisoner. However, it was clear from the start that Sveta still loved him - even though they had not seen each other for five years.

What follows is an extraordinary relationship, where Lev literally lived through her letters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a reader 16 Jun 2012
By Consumer A VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A cache of over 1,240 letters from Lev to Sveta smuggled in and out of Gulag from 1946 to 1954 tells a heroic true story of an inside view of Stalin's labour camps. This is a story of love and survival. It charts the horror Stalin's victims went through. The harshness and injustice of life in Russia before during and after World War 11. The letters of course were written in Russian and are now housed at the archives in Moscow - the largest private collection relating to Gulags. Historically amazing. There must have been so much to sift through , choose etc., and then there is the translation from Russian to English. These Documents and background history of Lev and Sveta and their parents and friends do highlight how talented future physicists, mathematicians, scientists, polymaths were neutralised and made impotent by a suspicious State apparatus. Perhaps a mainstream film or even better a Television serial dramatisation would be very successful.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gulag Romance Through Love letters Type Book. 27 Aug 2012
By Tommy Dooley TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is another book by the renowned Russophile Orlando Figes (`Crimea', Natasha's dance' and `A Peoples Tragedy' all good to excellent) and I was hoping for the same for this one. It relates the story of a love affair that was carried on whilst Lev was imprisoned for ten years as a political prisoner in Siberia. They wrote letters to each other all the time and got them out past the guards so as to avoid the censorship of Stalin's regime.

Svetlana was split up from Lev after World War II broke out, he was captured by the Germans and agreed to do translation work for them, and it was for that collaboration that he was sentenced to ten years in the gulag. She meanwhile finally got a letter from him after not hearing from him for five years and so the spark of love was rekindled and their correspondence brought them back together.

Whilst this is basically a love story in letters it is also a piece of history in that this is the biggest archive of first hand life in a gulag. Lev was luckier than most as he had some scientific background and that meant that he was able to secure less physically demanding work than some of his co prisoners. We do get to hear about some of the treatment of the inmates and the attitude of the guards and authorities but mostly the letters contain the story of their emotions and the ups and downs that took place between them over such a long period with mere moments together that were so hard fought for it is amazing they actually did it.

We also have a glimpse into the mind sets of both of them Lev was clearly homophobic thought it was a good idea to beat sense into children and seemed to accept his fate as being an unwitting traitor to the USSR.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Tyranny and Terror
Subjects of the biography ‘Just Send Me Word’ are Lev Mischchenko and Svetlana Ivanova who met as students in the 1930s in Moscow where initially they formed a somewhat chaste... Read more
Published 2 months ago by D. Elliott
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly true, but...
It's a close-up picture of human endurance within an inhuman system and because it's based on actual facts and artefacts it rings 100% true. Read more
Published 4 months ago by SH_
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting account of a relationship in the Soviet Union
I agree with a previous reviewer who described this book as a little detached but then, quite a few books I have read from during the Soviet period are just that. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Gogol
3.0 out of 5 stars Figes' touching story of the gulag experience for one couple
Interesting and moving story. However, the details tend to drag the story down after about a third of the way into it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by AnnMarie
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting chronicle of a remarkable relationship.
'Just Send Me Word' tells the story of Lev and Sveta, whose burgeoning relationship is interrupted by the Second World War and Lev's subsequent incarceration in a gulag. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Fiona Mccaw
4.0 out of 5 stars The Survival of Love under Extreme Conditions
Professor of history Orlando Figes has written extensively on various aspects of Soviet and Russian history: life under Stalin, Russian culture, the Crimean War - and now on the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by G. J. Oxley
5.0 out of 5 stars Oral history at its best
This book tells the stories of two people who were separated for 14 years and yet managed to maintain their love for each other in spite of severe obstacles. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Splash
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and well written
This is an interesting construct for conveying Russian history. The book is extremely well researched and the author should be congratulated for his diligence. Read more
Published 7 months ago by D. P. Mankin
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable
Just Send Me Word is not an easy read, but as with the very best in its category, you'll come out the other end of it with your faith in the human spirit and understanding of the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Rambleast Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Incredible!
This book is difficult to read, in the sense that you can't quite believe that a country could be so cruel to its people and that the people themselves can withstand such hardship... Read more
Published 8 months ago by traveller
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