Books by Vitaly Shentalinsky

Released: July 1, 1996

This literary, Soviet twist to the recovered memory movement so prevalent in the US reveals the horrors and tragedy of forced ``amnesia'' on a national scale. There is no doubt that poet Shentalinsky has undertaken a meaningful and monumental task in heading the commission to recover previously secret documentation pertaining to writers interrogated, imprisoned, and murdered by the KGB. Sadly, what might have been a rewarding collection of documents or an exciting narrative history is instead a confusing and ill-conceived combination of the two— but still one that, by sheer strength of the subject at hand, makes a lasting impression on the persistent reader. Shentalinsky's journalistic narrative moves freely but clumsily between personal narrative (the author's attempts to start up the commission, his accounts of working with intriguing KGB archive personnel, visits to Gulag sites) and chapters focusing on individual writers. These range from the world-famous—Isaac Babel, Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Osip Mandelstam—to the lesser-known ``Russian Leonardo da Vinci,'' Pavel Florenksy. The author provides extensive biographical notes akin to the notoriously lengthy lists of characters that accompany Russian novels. The import and nature of the recovered documents themselves vary tremendously. They include diaries, letters, and interrogators' reports. Isaac Babel's file is compelling because it is unusually comprehensive and reveals how Babel first succumbed to his interrogators' demands and later attempted to save those whom he had implicated. One of the most memorable files is that of Nina Hagen-Torn, an ethnographer and poet whose writings bear eloquent testimony to the horrors of the Gulag. In the words of one who suffered with her, Hagen-Torn ``seemed to soar above all the horror of the camps.'' Though not all attained such nobility of spirit, some did, while others at least tried to protect friends and acquaintances. Powerful and gripping material that could have benefited significantly by gearing this English translation to a non-Russian audience. (8 pages b&w photos) Read full book review >