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Kolyma Tales

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  6,797 ratings  ·  425 reviews
It is estimated that some three million people died in the Soviet forced-labour camps of Kolyma, in the northeastern area of Siberia. Shalamov himself spent seventeen years there, and in these stories he vividly captures the lives of ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances, whose hopes and plans extended to further than a few hours.

This new enlarged edition co
Paperback, 508 pages
Published July 28th 1994 by Penguin Classics (first published 1966)
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Mark The introduction informs the reader of the answer to this question. It states that most of the stories are based on experiences of the author; some ar…moreThe introduction informs the reader of the answer to this question. It states that most of the stories are based on experiences of the author; some are autobiographical . . . . (less)

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Vit Babenco
Apr 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Kolyma Tales is a book in which every story is a dirge of sorrow…
How is a road beaten down through the virgin snow? One person walks ahead, sweating, swearing, and barely moving his feet. He keeps getting stuck in the loose, deep snow. He goes far ahead, marking his path with uneven black pits. When he tires, he lies down on the snow, lights a home-made cigarette, and the tobacco smoke hangs suspended above the white, gleaming snow like a blue cloud. The man moves on, but the cloud remains hover
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mother-rus
Kolyma Tales was my first used book purchase via Amazon. (I feel obligated to honor our benefactor at every turn now. I even touch my breast when I say Amazon.)

Emerging from a blue period, I truly had no idea how beautiful this harrowing account would be. I don't detect any tension between the sublime and Kolyma. Imre Kertész has taught me well. It is chance, it is human. Survival simply wasn't possible. Those that did emerge, were stripped of something. A loss occurred. Kolyma is a protean crea
This was a tough read but one I am very glad to have read. This was a collection of stories about the conditions in Soviet forced-labour camps during the Stalinist regime. It definitely filled in many of the knowledge gaps I had of what happened in the Siberian gulags. Only someone who spent time in a Siberian labour camp could ever have come up with such a collection of short stories, stories that capture the abysmal conditions of the camps, describe what the camp does to the human psyche (both ...more
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bitchin
I’ve written before about the idea of an ‘irrational attachment to life,’ which means that no matter how awful, how painful and degrading existence is one cannot forsake it. Not only that but, with a miser’s spirit, one actively clings to it. Of course it is not true of all – otherwise there would never be any suicide – but it is certainly true of many, including me. I had a very difficult childhood, and I would fantasise a lot about getting away, but at no point did I ever not want to be here. ...more
Mikey B.
Aug 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
It was with some trepidation that I picked this one off my shelf. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I found it remarkable! It’s a collection of short stories; my volume has well over fifty stories contained at slightly over 500 pages. They are under the titles of Kolyma Tales, The Left Bank, The Virtuoso Shovelman, Essays on the Criminal World, and Resurrection of the Larch.

Kolyma is in North-eastern Siberia and the author spent decades there as a political prisoner in forced labour camps. The
Steven Godin
Mar 30, 2021 rated it really liked it

This didn't have the same impact on me as Yevgenia Ginzburg's powerful and haunting 'Journey into the Whirlwind', but it is without question one of the greats of Gulag literature.
Not that the vast network of camps that spread like the plague across some of the most harsh and desolate regions of Russia were a walk in the park, but Kolyma was seen as the most extreme. We're talking temperatures so low that it was enough to squeeze a man’s temples like one had their head in a vice. Not to mention t
Max Berendsen
Nov 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"If you are about to read the stories of Varlam Shalamov for the first time, you are a person to be envied, a person whose life is about to be changed, a person who will envy others once you yourself have forded these waters."- John Glad.

Rest of the review to follow.
Every now and then you read one of those books describing tough circumstances where the reader is almost inevitably forced to think "what would I do in this situation?" Kolyma Tales is most definitely one of those. When you're thinking of Russian prison literature, most people think of Solzhenitsyn. For my money, Shalamov was as good a literary craftsman, but rather than trying to impose an ideology-- which in Solzhenitsyn's case, was a rather nasty Orthodox conservatism-- he seemed more content ...more
Marianna Neal
Dark, bleak, and soul-crushing. I have a hard time reviewing books like this, and they always leave me with questions of whether there is a limit to the horrible things humans will do to each other, and how do we let these things happen?
"Friendship is not born in conditions of need or trouble. Literary fairy tales tell of ‘difficult’ conditions which are an essential element in forming any friendship, but such conditions are simply not difficult enough. If tragedy and need brought people toge
Mar 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, unsettling, triumphant. The best of the Gulag literature--- darker and more precise even than "Ivan Denisovich". Tales of survival, violence, hope, revolt, resistance, love, and death there in the world of the Gulag. Sharp, concise, etched in ice and steel, and with a deep sense of human worth and the human heart. You can't do 20th-c. Russian lit without reading this book. Yes, Solzhenitsyn--- yes: read "First Circle" and "Ivan Denisovich". But read this. Just go get a copy. Shalamov's ...more
May 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Disturbing. In some ways, this book is actually better than Solzhenitsyn's stuff. Shalamov writes such short, concise stories that carry so much emotional punch. There is even one story that is only one paragraph long that is more disturbing than an entire novel. I love Shalamov, especially for his aesthetics. ...more
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
stunning book about a convicts 17 years in a Siberian death camp. The author who was In the camp writes some short stories of his time there. Think a day in the life of Ivan denisovic x 100 times worse. In fact Solzhenitsyn held shalamov in very high regard. This book is one of the biggest magnifying glasses into the human psyche that I have ever read. Some incredible truths in this book that feel so out of place in normal society. Some of the most interesting short stories were: shock therapy, ...more
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully depressing short stories. Devastating. Hard to believe he was able to create art out of Soviet forced labor camp hell. Solzhenitsyn is equally great, but it’s his nonfiction rather than the fiction that equals the power of Shalamov’s Tales.
Lark Benobi
It's remarkable this book isn't better known and more widely read. Connects with you on a visceral level and instructs about life in the Gulag in a way Gulag Archipelago does not. ...more
Aaron Arnold
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I dare you to find a literary genre more depressing than prison literature – go on, think about it for a bit, I'll wait. Kolyma Tales is a collection of short stories set in the various mines, dormitories, and work camps that made up the vast Siberian "human sewage disposal system" that Alexander Solzhenitsyn so famously chronicled in The Gulag Archipelago. Based on an unimaginable seventeen years of the author's own personal experience with the Gulag system, this is an unforgettably bleak look ...more
Preston Fleming
Nov 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Though the Soviet Gulag extended across the entire continent, arguably the worst camps were in the Russian Far East, and particularly the gold fields of the Kolyma River basin.

The port city of Magadan was the gateway to Kolyma, with Vladivostok and other ports as way stations.

I visited Magadan, Vladivostok, Vanino, Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur and other cities of the Russian Far East in the early 1990s when they were first opened to Western businessmen.

Our Russian guides showed us the apartmen
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
To quote Mr. Rochester, 'How tenacious we are of life.' Here is every trick in the book to hold onto life while being starved, frozen, and worked to death. Yes, it was bleak, but there was also a point where I really saw the wonder of this tenacity. Bread can be a squalid affair but it keeps us in life. History is ugly, especially for those who see its face close up rather than from a long look back. ...more
Alex Zakharov
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A harsh book that brutally demonstrates how thin the veneer of civilization really is. All the normal human qualities, interests and motives that we take for granted, any hint of culture or intellectual pursuit, any emotional reactions or moral pontifications or hints of individuality – all of that is permanently knocked out of you in the first three weeks in a Siberian labor camp. What is left is merely an overworked animal in the shape of a human.

Despite the subject matter Shalamov’s writing i
Conservative moralists squat on top of the literary memorialization of the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag, even though the pair I have in mind, Elie Wiesel and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn respectively, are both dead. Both are well worth reading but both also seek to isolate their particular instances of evil from history and politics, insisting on their metaphysical uniqueness and priority. This impulse has, ironically, loaned these historical memories to political projects of many blunt, hist ...more
Apr 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: soviet, russia
Between 1929 and 1953, Varlam Shalamov spent 20 years in Soviet labour camps as a dissident. 16 of those in Kolyma, a region in the most distant part of Siberia that at the time was essentially a prison the size of a large country, half a world away from... anything. When he was released, he started writing about it; short stories based on his and others' experiences. Stories of what it's like to survive for decades in an environment where everything is essentially trying to kill you, by violenc ...more
Nick Black
Oct 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: likely-reread
This was pretty brilliant right here. All the goodness of The Gulag Archipelago but about 7,000 pages shorter.

Amazon 2008-10-23. I still don't want to buy Anne Applebaum's big book of misery, especially after The Years of Extermination (another totalitarian camp-oriented Pulitzer winner of late) left me feeling not so much educated, or entertained, but more like the contemplative minutes after one realizes the TaB you just pulled warm dregs from had been serving as an ashtray for several hour
Elena Sala
KOLYMA TALES is a collection of stories which draw on the seventeen years (from 1929 to 1954) Varlam Shalamov spent in various forced labor camps. Reading these tales was a veritable trip to hell.

Kolyma is very near Alaska. It is an enormous natural prison bounded by the Pacific ocean, the Arctic Circle and an impassable range of mountains. According to some calculations, more than two million people died in Kolyma.

Most of these savage, bitter tales are autobiographical in nature, but they shou
Jan 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
These short stories are the best GULag literature you will ever read. They put "Ivan Denisovich" in context, and are far more depressing and terrifying. The detachment the reader senses in the narrator is a bit disconcerting. He does not use wild language, however deserved it was, to describe suffering; in fact, it appears wildly understated. He is far more matter of fact than he probably had the right to be.

The short stories allow Shalamov to explore many different aspects of the camp environme
Erik F.
Nov 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Stark, brutal miniatures written by a man who spent 17 years (!) in the settings and conditions described here so bluntly and painfully. The cruelty and monotony of life in the Kolyma labor camps are enough to elevate the most mundane items (a can of condensed milk, a child's watercolor paintings) to the level of the miraculous; anything that wards off hunger or reminds the condemned of a brighter world beyond their present circumstances is an event to be cherished. Some of these tales were so d ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
So good--

You don't often come across a short story collection this good (the last time was probably Alice Munro's Open Secrets I read 5 years ago). The first full story in this collection, "On Tick" blew me away, and in many ways, it's a perfect piece to begin a collection about one of the harshest gulags, with its brutality and belittlement of life that's normal for Kolyma life. And there are so many stories that are as good as the first piece, though admittedly the second half of the collectio
Dec 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, short-stories
An important book, but one which I did not find very enjoyable to read — it didn’t grab me. Perhaps I simply wasn’t in the mood for a very long collection of very short tales.
Matt Hlinak
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Varlam Shalamov draws from firsthand experience in his depictions of suffering in his work. Unlike Primo Levi, for example, Shalamov chose not to present this suffering in the form of a nonfiction memoir. Instead, like Tim O’Brien and Tadeusz Borowski, he has fictionalized his experiences. I suspect Shalamov shared O’Brien’s belief that fiction can be just as “true” as nonfiction as long as the writer is able to accurately capture the physical details and emotions of the real-life experience.

Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A monument of human endurance and soul in the face of absolute evil, Shalamov's book is a testament of what makes one human. The Gulag, one of the many plagues of the 20th century, a black hole into which people disappear never to come out again - and even if they did, they were but a fraction of their old selves, provides the back drop for this heartbreaking journey of death into life. Apart from providing us with an irrefutable historical document, Shalamov proves to be one of the true masters ...more
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Kolyma Tales is a collection of short stories by Russian author Varlam Shalamov. I first read this in college and have read it over again to refresh my memory. The stories are based around prisoners of gulags who suffer through the weather and harsh treatment from those in charge. Never once does he mention Stalin. Brutal, shocking and matter-of-fact, Kolyma Tales will change your life forever.
Charles Finch
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely essential.
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Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov (Russian: Варлам Тихонович Шаламов; June 18, 1907–January 17, 1982), baptized as Varlaam, was a Russian writer, journalist, poet and Gulag survivor.

Alternate spellings of his name:
Варлам Шаламов
Varlam Chalamov
Warłam Szałamow
Warlam Schalamow
V. T. Shalamov
וארלאם שאלאמוב
Varlam Sjalamov

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