At the back of these exercise books there is a blurred snapshot and a note, "Chistyakov, Ivan Petrovich, repressed in 1937-38. Killed at the front in Tula Province in 1941." This is all that remains of Ivan Chistyakov, a senior guard at the Baikal Amur Corrective Labour Camp Who was this lost man? How did he end up in the gulag? Though a guard, he is a type of prisoner, too. We learn that he is a cultured and urbane ex-city dweller with a secret nostalgia for pre-Revolutionary Russia. In this diary, Chistyakov does not just record his life in the camp, he narrates it. He is a sharp-eyed witness and a sympathetic, humane, and broken man From stumblingly poetic musings on the bitter landscape of the taiga to matter-of-fact grumbles about the inefficiency of his stove, from accounts of the brutal conditions of the camp to reflections on the cruelty of loneliness, this diary is an astonishing record--a visceral and immediate description of a place and time whose repercussions still affect the shape of modern Russia, and modern Europe.
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