Monday, June 18, 2012

Just Send Me Word

Just Send Me Word:  A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
by Orlando Figes
Henry Holt, 2012.  329 pgs. Nonfiction.

Lev Mishchenko and Svetlana Ivanova met at university, fell in love, and might have gone on to marriage, a family, a happy life together, except that World War II intervened.  Lev's days as a soldier were cut short when he was captured by the Germans. During his time in the Reich's prisoner of war camp he was asked to translate for the Germans. When he returned home, he was charged with treason and sent to the Pechora labor camp in the Arctic Gulag. Five years after Lev had last seen Sveta, he received a letter from her, beginning a remarkable correspondence that is not only the only known real-time record of life in Stalin's labor camps, but forms the basis of an extraordinary story of love and loyalty. From 1946 to 1954, 1500 letters passed between the two, thanks to the kindly interventions of Lev's friends in and near the prison camps. Sveta even managed short and perilous visits, taking unauthorized extensions to work tours to visit Pechora for a few hours of guard-supervised time with Lev. Just Send Me Word  is a beautiful, terrible narrative of two people desperately in love with each other but kept apart by the cruelties of their time and place in the world. During Lev's darkest days, he sees in a dream, or a vision himself turning to look behind him, where he sees Sveta dressed in white, kneeling to help a young girl with her dress. Four times he has the dream and at long last, it comes true.


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