24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The Long Bridge,
This review is from: The Long Bridge: Out Of The Gulags (Paperback)
Reading 'The Long Bridge: out of the Gulags' reminded me of Primo Levi, one of the few Auschwitz survivors rescued by the Red Army during the liberation of the camp on January 27th, 1945. Published posthumously half a century after Primo Levi's first and most famous novel, 'If this is a Man', Urszula's story proclaims the same timeless message: "mere oppression cannot imprison thought."
While Urszula's tone is uncompromising and candid in its portrayal of the brutality and terror of gulag life, like Levi, it is absent of hatefulness towards the perpetrators of her sixteen year imprisonment. In the final pages of 'The Long Bridge' she states: "Every person is capable of friendship and providing help. I have not met evil people in my life." She goes on to provide examples of NKVD officers and guards who during their own holidays risked severe punishment and loss of position to relay messages onto the family members of the prisoners they guarded. It is Urszula's selflessness and belief in the power of the human spirit that makes The Long Bridge so deeply powerful and moving. That a person can endure so much and still harbour a faith in the goodness of humanity will truly astound the reader.
As a primary source, 'The Long Bridge' is invaluable. It provides the reader with a detailed insight into the organisation, penal code, and make-up of the Soviet gulag system, and introduces us to a world of bandit molls, wild criminals, kara katorga, sectarians, Russian witticism and the communal power of the much desired Mahorka; all of which makes for the most gripping reading. Furthermore, Urszula regularly provides us with fond and vivid accounts of the many female prisoners she mets. Such fascinating accounts ensure their names are never lost and their courage, strength and personalities are never forgotten.
Urszula's book is an important addition to a long list of accounts, many of which still remain hidden by the Kremlin, that bring to light the failings, hypocrisy, and turmoil of life in Stalinist USSR. One can only hope for the day when these hard truths are fully incorporated into the Russian education system and taught to school children across the country.
Of all of The Long Bridge's many facets, by far the most encapsulating in my view is Urszula's descriptions of the natural world around her. Blending Poetry with her own philosophy and religion she brings to life the sunsets beyond the camp, the harsh burans of Kazakhstan, the light of the aurora borealis, and colours of the Eurasian Steppe. Her ability to celebrate such beauty after freezing and gruelling days spent toiling outside is almost beyond comprehension. Despite the constant efforts of the Soviet machine to crush it, her artistic sensibility and love for the beauty of life never once waivers. What a truly remarkable woman!