A rich trove of letters tells the moving story of two young physics students in Stalin’s Russia whose love was severely tested while separated by exile in Siberia.

In this first publication of “the largest cache of Gulag letters ever found,” Figes (History/Birkbeck College, Univ. of London; The Crimean War, 2011, etc.) has sifted through more than 1,500 missives to uncover a story of two people who found a way to endure over eight years of the harshest isolation and repression. After meeting at Moscow University in 1935, Lev and Svetlana, or Sveta as she is called in the letters, became kindred spirits over their shared passion for poetry and learning. With the invasion of Russia by the Nazis in 1941, Lev was mobilized to the front; he was soon captured and spent the war as a POW. However, because he spoke German, he was enlisted as a translator. With the liberation by the Americans, Lev was urged to take a job as a physicist in the United States, but he refused, returning to Moscow to find Sveta. Upon arrival, he was accused of spying for the Germans and was sentenced to 10 years in the Arctic Gulag. News of Lev’s whereabouts finally reached Sveta and her family, and in an extraordinary letter dated Jul. 12, 1946, Sveta wrote to Lev for the first time at the labor camp: “How many times have I wanted to nestle in your arms but could only turn to the empty wall in front of me? I felt I couldn’t breathe. Yet time would pass, and I would pull myself together. We will get through this, Lev.” They managed to express a cautiously optimistic tone through the grim, lonely stretch of Lev’s incarceration, and were even able to meet secretly a few times. Their devotion to each other allowed them each to survive. A heart-rending record of extraordinary human endurance.


Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9522-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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