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

Orlando Figes. Holt/Metropolitan, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9522-7
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Drawing on more than 1,200 letters between Lev and Svetlana “Sveta” Mishchenko, and interviews with the couple, veteran historian Figes (The Crimean War) tells their remarkable tale of love and devotion during the worst years of the USSR. Having fallen in love as physics students at Moscow University, they were separated for 13 years: first while Lev served in WWII, and then after he was sentenced to a Siberian labor camp for the “crime” of serving as a translator for a German officer while a POW. Lev’s letters illustrate the extreme hardships of the Stalinist camps: near-starvation, rampant epidemics, and the shattering of inmates’ basic humanity, so that “in the course of time you really do become a savage and malicious animal...,” he wrote to Sveta. Her letters express her extraordinary devotion and determination to visit Lev, which she managed to do four times, despite the long trek, subterfuges, necessary bribes, and dangers involved in the illegal journeys. Figes briefly relates the couple’s post-gulag marriage, parenthood, and professional success, and offers much important background information, such as the economic inefficiency of the Stalinist camp system. His fine narrative pacing enhances this moving, memorable story. 8 pages of photos. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2012
Release date: 05/22/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 333 pages - 978-0-241-95590-1
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