Ivan Chistyakov was a Muscovite who was expelled from the Communist Party during the purges of the late 1920s and early 1930s. He commanded an armed guard unit on a section of BAM, the Baikal-Amur Railway, which was built by forced labour. He was killed in 1941.
In the archives of the Memorial International Human Rights Centre in Moscow is an extraordinary diary, a rare first-person testimony of a commander of guards in a Soviet labour camp.
Ivan Chistyakov was sent to the Gulag in 1935, where he worked at the Baikal-Amur Corrective Labour Camp for over a year. Life at the Gulag was anathema to Chistyakov, a cultured Muscovite with a nostalgia for pre-revolutionary Russia, and an amateur painter and poet. He recorded its horrors with an unmatchable immediacy, documenting a world where petty rivalries put lives at risk, prisoners hacked off their fingers to bet in card games, railway sleepers were burned for firewood and Siberian winds froze the lather on the soap.
From his stumbling poetic musings on the bitter landscape to his matter-of-fact grumbles about his stove, from accounts of the conditions of the camp to reflections on the cruelty of loneliness, this diary is unique - a visceral and immediate description of a place and time whose repercussions still affect the shape of modern Russia.
The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard
Translated by Arch Tait
London: Granta, 2016
ISBN 9 781783 782567
ISBN 9 781783 782574
Order from Blackwell's or Waterstones
Translation supported by English PEN/ The Arts Council of England
US edition published as The Day Will Pass Away, Pegasus, Hardback, ISBN 9 781681 774602; Paperback, ISBN 9 781681 777610.
‘A rare and fascinating insight into the Soviet camp system, and a reminder that the imprisoned weren't its only victims’
Anna Reid, author
Click HERE for Review of Ivan Chistyakov's Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard
|The translation by Arch Tait is adroit and haunting, without adding excess literary polish to Chistyakov’s journal. Andrea Pitzer, StarTribune, Minneapolis
Beyond this honest, gripping memoir, nothing else is known about the single precious life that Chistyakov lived, that was wasted so cheaply.
Paul E. Richardson, Russian Life, Montpelier, Vermont.
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