Customer Review

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
This review is from: Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag (Hardcover)
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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. Svet did not mind breaking the rules to get what she wanted whilst at the same time rejoicing in Stalinist architecture and looking down on people who were not fascinated by science. These of course must be taken as being `of their time' and as such is more than forgivable. There are moments of true philanthropy mixed in as well as true love, sacrifice and comradeship. They could never have done all of what they did without the help of others and they seem to have repaid that in spade fulls. There are also pictures from the actual camp and some up to date ones as well as some very informative maps which all add to the story.

So why three stars? Well I just found it a bit plodding and repetitive, as a lot of the book concerns quotes from their letters they are all very personal and limited in scope so what I thought might be an insider's expose of the gulag system became more of a Mills and Boonski without the sex. Sorry if I am being harsh it just did not rock my world. That said I will always read any offering by the very talented Mr Figes.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Sep 2012 15:07:06 BDT
Red on Black says:
A very honest and good review of this book, which i must admit I am struggling with. Thank you

PS Its "Figes"

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Sep 2012 10:02:06 BDT
Tommy Dooley says:
Hi Red on Black many thanks for the heads up on my school boy error. And for agreeing with my trouble with this book, I read it on holiday and ended up doing a lot more swimming than would be the norm, so not all bad. And keep the reviews coming I am getting the new Avett Brothers one based on your review. Regards Tommy
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