NABOKV-L post 0010797, Wed, 15 Dec 2004 09:44:02 -0800

Fwd: Oleg Volkov studied at an elite lyceum together with
Vladimir Nabokov. ...
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Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2004 08:30:54 -0500
From: "Sandy P. Klein" <>[1]
RIA Novosti, Russia - 19 hours ago
... Volkov was born into an aristocratic family in St. Petersburg and
he studied at an elite lyceum together with VLADIMIR NABOKOV. ...


By Anatoly Korolev, RIA Novosti political commentator

Thirty years ago, in 1974, the Paris-based emigre publishing house
YMCA Press released the Russian edition of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's
"The Gulag Archipelago." This book stunned the global community,
becoming the first shock in the moral earthquake that would make the
Soviet regime collapse less than two decades on.

But there were other shocks, too. Now that passions around "The
Gulag Archipelago" have subsided, we can give it an impartial look
and try to determine its legitimate place in the history of
20th-century Russian literature.

It seems obvious now that there are at least two other equally
compelling non-fiction books about Stalinist terror and
camps-"Sinking into Darkness" by Oleg Volkov (1900-1996) and "Cave
Paintings" by Efrosinya Kersnovskaya (1907-1994).

"The Gulag Archipelago" offers a bird's eye view of the terror
machine, a collection of hundreds of documentary accounts whereas
"Sinking into Darkness" tells one person's life story. This latter
book is a confession by an exponent of the social class partially
exterminated during the Bolshevik upheaval and brought to the brink
of extinction in the subsequent years of totalitarian rule. Volkov
was born into an aristocratic family in St. Petersburg and he studied
at an elite lyceum together with Vladimir Nabokov. He was a staunch
opponent of the Bolshevik revolution, but paradoxically, it was his
opposition to Bolshevism that enabled him to narrowly escape
execution. Authorities tried to "rehabilitate" the man, hoping his
stay in correctional institutions would eventually make him adopt the
new social order. Six prison sentences added up to 28 years of custody
in Stalinist camps.

But Volkov stoically weathered all the hardships, including years of
custody in the notorious Solovki camp. Released after Stalin's death,
he would live to be 97 years. This tall, gray-haired man with an
aristocratic poise retained robust health and tenacious memory even
at an advanced age, and the indignities and inhumane conditions of
prison life did not change his outgoing and amiable personality.

"Sinking into Darkness" is not just about a man's survival, but also
about his spiritual empowerment, about faith in God becoming the
lifeline to get him out of an abyss.

"The Gulag Archipelago," by contrast, has no mystic dimension to it;
here one can find politics, censure of Bolshevism, analysis of social
problems, and moral torments. "Sinking into Darkness" complements
Solzhenitsyn's epic with an insight into the fate of Russian
religious consciousness. This book teaches stoicism, contending that
there is a deep meaning behind all the trials and tribulations that
befall humans.

Volkov can be likened to Jonah, who spent three days and three
nights inside a whale's belly and who described the experience as
hell. Like the Biblical character, he reemerges from his ordeal only
to glorify God's name.

Kersnovskaya's autobiographical account stands out in the triad as
the most powerful. This is a look at "The Gulag Archipelago" from the
inside, and from a woman's perspective. A young Romanian living in
Chisinau finds herself in a labor camp in 1941, after Bessarabia's
annexation to the Soviet Union. A naive maximalist, she insists on
being exiled to Siberia so that she could prove her innocence there.
Eventually, authorities let the officious girl have her way, if only
to get her out of their sight. Once in a camp, this Russian Joan of
Arc rushes to help her miserable inmates, becoming something of a
redeeming angel to them. The Providence protects Kersnovskaya even
when she-out of resentment-escapes from the camp to walk 1,500
kilometers through the taiga forest in early spring. Miraculously, no
beast attacks her along the way, and she survives exposure to freezing
temperatures. But as she comes out of the taiga and gets to a
railroad, the girl is caught by security forces and sent back to
prison for another ten-year term.

Freed from custody, Kersnovskaya described her prison experiences in
12 thick notebooks, illustrating her sincere account with hundreds of
equally sincere, naive drawings. In terms of emotional intensity, her
narrative can be put on a par with such universally acknowledged
masterpieces of writing as "A Confession" by Leo Tolstoy and "The
Confessions" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

All the three books--Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago,"

Volkov's "Sinking into Darkness," and Kersnovskaya's "Cave
Paintings"-form a tragic triptych exploring people's suffering amidst
cruel social experiments. Three human islands in the archipelago of
Russian history. No work of last century's world literature can
possibly match this triptych in terms of emotional impact.

december 15 morning preview...[2]


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