Stiff though it mostly is, Muravin's novel is so wrapped around a core of determination to honor plain courage that it just about manages to substitute heroism for what motive and plot are to other books--though it does have a drastic tale to tell. As a sort of victimized blotter for 20 years of Soviet terror, former sea-captain Vikenty Angarov spends the bulk of his best two decades as a zek--a prisoner in the labor-camps of Siberia--and only through an astounding will to live and attendant shrewdness stays alive. Barely listed, the travails Muravin has Angarov go through include a first arrest, a coveted job as camp trusty, release, exile, re-arrest, deportation to a gold-mining camp in the sub-Arctic, self-mutilation in order to be exempted from a suicidal forced-march, escape through the frozen tundra, and even cannibalism. The book's last hundred pages especially have a great graphic confidence, and though in the Preface it is noted that Muravin is here retelling the actual factual life of a fellow Russian, there is strong imaginative hold, no mere fictionalizing of fact. As a novelist, Muravin can't score his work symphonically, as Solzhenitsyn can, but as a solo sonata of harsh power, his angry ""diary"" is effective and at times even memorable.