Friday, July 20, 2012

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

A heroic love story and an unprecedented inside view of one of Stalin's most notorious labor camps, based on a remarkable cache of letters smuggled in and out of the Gulag.

"I went to get the letters for our friends, and couldn't help but feel a little envious, I didn't expect anything for myself. And suddenly—there was my name, and, as if it was alive, your handwriting."

In 1946, after five years as a prisoner—first as a Soviet POW in Nazi concentration camps, then as a deportee (falsely accused of treason) in the Arctic Gulag—twenty-nine-year-old Lev Mishchenko unexpectedly received a letter from Sveta, the sweetheart he had hardly dared hope was still alive. Amazingly, over the next eight years the lovers managed to exchange more than 1,500 messages, and even to smuggle Sveta herself into the camp for secret meetings. Their recently discovered correspondence is the only known real-time record of life in Stalin's Gulag, unmediated and uncensored.

Orlando Figes,"the great storyteller of modern Russian historians" (Financial Times), draws on Lev and Sveta's letters as well as KGB archives and recent interviews to brilliantly reconstruct the broader world in which their story unfolded. With the powerful narrative drive of a novel, Just Send Me Word reveals a passion and endurance that triumphed over the tragic forces of history. 

When he was a child, Bolshevik revolutionary’s killed Lev Mischenko’s parents in Siberia. Raised by his grandmother, Lev became a physicist and while at university, he met and fell in love with Svetlana. When World War II began, before they could marry, he joined the army to battle the Nazi’s. During one particular battle, he was captured and imprisoned in concentration camps. Mischenko tried to escape, but failed. His face was added to the millions of Soviets already in custody. Fortunately, he survived when millions of others died. Accused of spying, he was sent to the Gulag, one of the most brutal Siberian prison camps. Over the next nine years, Lev and Svetlana exchanged hundreds of letters. On occasion, she was allowed to visit him. He remained in prison until 1954. After Stalin’s death, he was among the hundreds of thousands of prisoners who were released.

Just Send Me Word is a non-fictional recounting of Lev and Svetlana’s lives in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. Decades later, the nearly 1500 letters were discovered in a trunk – carefully preserved, and ready to tell their dramatic story, of a great love separated, and the conditions Soviets suffered during the Stalin years.

This book is a shocking revelation about the harsh conditions and the tens of millions of lives lost because of the Soviet Communists. Hunger, poverty, and illness were rampant. Despite all this, love proved true between Lev and his wife who waited so long for his release. Their love for each other and the miracle of human endurance is becomes evident in the letters as the couple bolsters each other in the harshest of conditions. It gives an accurate, first hand glimpse into the suffering of the Russian people and their suffering during the 20thcentury. Highly recommended and with appeal to those who love romance as well as a good war story. 

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