Varlam Shalamov (1907–1982) was born in Vologda in western Russia to a Russian Orthodox priest and his wife. After being expelled from law school for his political beliefs, Shalamov worked as a journalist in Moscow. In 1929, he was arrested at an underground print shop and sentenced to three years’ hard labor in the Ural Mountains. He returned to Moscow after his release in 1931 and resumed work as a journalist and writer. The following year, he was arrested again for counterrevolutionary activities and shipped to the Far Northeast of the Kolyma basin. Over the next 15 years, he was moved from labor camp to labor camp; imprisoned many times for anti-Soviet propaganda; forced to mine gold and coal; quarantined for typhus; and, finally, assigned to work as a paramedic. Upon his release in 1951, he made his way back to Moscow and began publishing poems, as well as writing what would become the Kolyma Stories. Severely weakened by his years in the camps, in 1979 Shalamov was committed to a decrepit nursing home north of Moscow. He died of pneumonia in 1982.
His Own “Final Thing”: On Varlam Shalamov’s “Kolyma Stories”
Patrick Kurp on the artfully rendered accounts of suffering in “Kolyma Stories” by Varlam Shalamov, translated by Donald Rayfield....