Some eight years ago, Odessan poet and rights-activist Ratushinskaya had meted out to her a remarkably harsh punishment: seven years of hard labor, followed by the same amount of time spent in external exile--for the ""crime"" of writing anti-Soviet verse, but more pointedly for protesting the internal exile of Andrei Sakharov. Since Ratushinskaya is a major Russian poet, the Soviets certainly knew what they were doing--but her defiant pluck in the Mordavian zek-camp where she was placed with other women ""politicals""--the Small Zone--was probably less foreseen. As Soviet prison memoirs go, hers is most remarkable for its equanimity, balance, hatred of despair, and utterly unmetaphorical approach. She was beaten almost to death; shuttled in and out of punishment cells on a regular basis; had her twice-yearly personal visits by her husband routinely cancelled at the last minute; and, along with her fellow half-dozen politicals, was on what seemed like a permanent hunger strike-yet her humor and faith (as contrasted with optimism--""only a cheap substitute for faith"") and unfailing self-regulation were remarkable, and show through here on every page. Free of ideology, also of literary narcissism (is there a poet more secure in her talent than Ratushinskaya?), her testament is a grand one, even in the rather stiff translation here.