A worthy addition to the literature of the gulag that also features intimate glimpses of the author of Doctor Zhivago.




Oral histories of women imprisoned by the Soviets in the gulag or elsewhere, often startling in their lack of self-pity.

Far fewer women than men were sent to Stalin’s forced labor camps, and the imbalance has led to a corresponding gap in eyewitness accounts by female prisoners. Barcelona-based writer and translator Zgustova (The Silent Woman, 2014, etc.) offers partial redress in her oral histories of nine women, eight sent to the gulag and one to a horrific psychiatric prison. The best-known is Irina Emelyanova, exiled to Siberia with her mother, Olga Ivinskaya, who was the intimate companion of Boris Pasternak and inspired Lara in Doctor Zhivago. Her vivid account reveals less about the camps than about the novelist who rejected the Nobel Prize under pressure from the Soviets (he feared reprisals against her mother if he accepted). Actor Valentina Iyevleva is tragically representative of others: After her father was executed as an “enemy of the people,” she ended up in a Siberian camp where women, even if pregnant, worked as loggers in deep snow, “often up to our waists or higher,” in temperatures as low as 50 below zero, on starvation rations. Small acts of friendship or kindness could determine who survived the brutal conditions. Born in the gulag, Galya Safonova still has the books prisoners made for her from hand-sewn scraps, including a version of Little Red Riding Hood: “They are my greatest treasure.” The most startling accounts come from women who say matter-of-factly—with no apparent self-pity—that their suffering had benefits. “If I had to live my life over, I would not want to avoid that experience,” says Susanna Pechuro, who did more than five years’ time for anti-Stalinist activity. The bitter experience helped after her release: “A person can turn into a monster in the camps, but if you come out of a camp and you don’t become an ogre, you know that nothing in life can hurt you. You are armored.” This rare collection shows the terrible cost of that armor.

A worthy addition to the literature of the gulag that also features intimate glimpses of the author of Doctor Zhivago.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59051-177-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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