Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Kolyma Stories” as Want to Read:
Kolyma Stories
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Kolyma Stories

4.53  ·  Rating details ·  193 ratings  ·  39 reviews
This version has the first three volumes of the Kolyma Stories:
I - Kolyma Tales
II - The Left Bank
III - The spade artist

Life in a Russian gulag, based on the author's own years in the Gulag, chronicled in an epic masterpiece.

Kolyma Stories is a masterpiece of twentieth-century literature, composed of short fictional tales based on Russian writer Varlam Shalamov's fifteen ye
ebook, 1660 pages
Published April 1st 2018 by New York Review of Books (first published January 1st 1993)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Kolyma Stories, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Kolyma Stories

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.53  · 
Rating details
 ·  193 ratings  ·  39 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Kolyma Stories
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't afraid of my memories.
-Varlam Shalamov

In 1966, Irina Sirotinskaya, a young mother working for the Russian State Archives, convinced Varlam Shalamov to let her preserve his works. Upon first meeting him, after being warned of his brusque nature, she remarked how his character struck her:

My first impression of Varlam Tikhonovich? Big. There was the physique, tall and broad-shouldered, and then a clear sense of an extraordinary, formidable personality — from his first words, at first glanc
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very important, extraordinarily important period was beginning in my life. I could sense that with my whole being. I now had to prepare for life, not for death. And I didn’t know which was harder.

Kolyma Stories is a collection of tales depicting the horrors of labor camp life in the Soviet Union. Relentless and unforgiving. Shalamov masterfully recreates his life experiences in the Gulag with harrowing detail. As Shalamov poignantly states:

There are no lessons to be learned from Kolyma. The ca
J.M. Hushour
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The same cold that turned saliva to ice in midair had gotten to the human soul."

A massive 800-page collection of stories both brusque and pithy. Shalamov was a political prisoner during the Stalin era in the Kolyma region of Russia, one of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet, where he worked as a miner and then a medical attendant in various prisons. Thus, you'll know what to expect from these stories (mostly) about prison life. What will surprise you is their terse beauty and
James Murphy
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this book pretty interesting. It's 86 short, autobiographical stories, snapshots the Soviet Gulag in the Kolyma Region of eastern Siberia where gold and coal were mined using the slave labor of political and criminal prisoners serving unbelievably long sentences. Shalamov himself experienced what he wrote about, serving 15 years there.

I was impressed by the stories. First, Shalamov offers more variety than you'd think possible about men considered "human refuse" and "human slag" who're w
E. G.
Aug 30, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to E. G. by: Stosch
A manuscript page from Shalamov's story "The Apostle Paul"
Introduction, by Donald Rayfield

Book One: Kolyma Stories
--Trampling the Snow
--On the Slate
--At Night
--A Personal Quota
--The Parcel
--Field Rations
--The Injector
--The Apostle Paul
--Tamara the Bitch
--Cherry Brandy
--Children's Pictures
--Condensed Milk
--The Snake Charmer
--The Tatar Mullah and Clean Air
--My First Death
--Auntie Polia
--The Necktie
--The Golden Taiga
--Vaska Denisov, Pig Rustler
I am quitting after 500 pages of this 708 page book of short stories based on the author's 15 years spent in a Soviet gulag. These stories are harsh and hard to stomach, each one filled with misery, treachery and starvation. 300 pages would have been plenty. 700 pages is too much. ...more
Miina Saarna
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading2019
A very difficult book to read; a collection of short stories describing the many unimaginable horrors of Soviet hard labor camps in Siberia. The author spent 17 years in Kolyma and experienced the most inhuman treatment possible. Most of the stories were absolutely depressing but all of them were beautifully written. I especially loved the 4 last stories of this book.
Rick Slane
Did you know spit freezes in midair at 50 degrees below zero?
Guy Salvidge
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Want to read 700+ pages about life in the 'Gulag Archipelago?' This is your book, and it will have a twin next year too. This supplements and deepens my understanding of life in the far extremities of Soviet Russia, where I learned that 'Trotskyists' rarely had anything to do with Trotsky, and where a child rapist was considered a 'friend of the people' compared to the loathsome politicals. Lots of beautiful writing herein and indeed wisdom regarding the nature of the human condition to match an ...more
Daniel Polansky
Observations and episodes from the six years the author spent in the most far flung of the Soviet gulags. Beautiful observations about the natural environment of his distant prison, bleak depictions of the reality of gulag life, a scathing but sincere moral viewpoint, I guess you can figure out why it’s considered a classic.
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It took me well over a year to read this amazing account of Kolyma. The cruelty and suffering was too horrendous to keep reading night after night. Sometimes people ask me why I read literature like this, so depressing and so awful, and my answer is that I want to know what happened to people, to honor what they endured, to remember and know what they experienced. This book is more than a historic account, though, as it is wonderfully written.
Two quotes: Shalamov is speaking to a companion about
Brian Denton
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tales of life in the worst of Stalin’s gulags.

Pus and blood ooze from the overworked open wounds of a man’s frostbitten toes and then sloshes around in his galoshes such that it sounds as if he’s constantly walking through puddles. Guards mercilessly beat and humiliate prisoners. Starved prisoners rat on their comrades for mere grams of extra rations. Hope is nonexistent. So is despair. Only anger and bitterness remain for the prisoners at Kolyma. These are the conditions that prevail when human
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is such a hard book to rate, the subject matter is grim and the structure is disjointed. They are short stories but they are also connected but there’s just no time line which I really struggled with. I liked the parts where he wrote about the landscape and the nature around them. It’s an interesting, challenging read and I definitely want to read more Russian literature.
An exceptional Russian classic! This is a very tough read, but well worth the effort. One of the most important books written in the 20th century. Highly recommended.
Andrei Brinzai
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A difficult, overwhelming book about Shalamov's experiences in the Far East Region of Russia. I liked the plain, blunt style used to write this book and, even if some fragments or entire stories are repeated, it did not bother me at all.

There is some humor here and there, however most of the stories are shocking and dreadful. Despite all of this, the fragment that stays with me is the following:
"Moscow’s Yaroslavl station. Noise, the urban tide of Moscow, a city that was dearer to me than all t
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories from the furthest reaches of the Soviet Gulag surprises with the variety of genres and moods it can extract from what would seem to be a monolithically dehumanizing experience. Of course there are many stories that remind the reader of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," but without the partially redemptive quality of religious belief. But Varlam Shalamov also manages to depict scenes of humor and nature, stories of hope for prisoners given the chance to be ...more
Greg Williams
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book of short stories is based upon Shalamov's 15 years in Stalin's prison camps in and around Kolyma in the far northeastern USSR. The stories themselves are fictional but based upon his experiences as a political prisoner in the Gulag. As Shalamov writes, the goal of Stalin's camps was not "re-education" but rather to literally work people to death. 14-16 hour days of hard labor in temperatures that can get down to 50 below in the winter, with inadequate clothing and starvation-level food ...more
Aug 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took an age for me to finish, because I find that short story collections, regardless of how well-written they are or how interested I am in the topic, do not always hold my interest. Something about the way that it starts and stops again and again tends to lose me. Nonetheless, although this book took a long time to read, I still completely enjoyed it.

I've read a bit about the Gulag before, and so I'm familiar with certain details. Nonetheless, the details here are closer and more per
Stephen Sakuma
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
So I liked many of the stories but I was a little underwhelmed by the repetitiveness and the plainness of the writing. The first few stories were shocking and gripping in their nature and content but most of the stories in each of the 3 sections of the book were quite similar so it was easy to become jaded. I found the book very easy to read (surely a very skilled translation) and Shalamov is often lauded for his objective clarity but it was just a little too plain for me.

I really did enjoy lear
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for summer reading projects, those really big books that are often tragic and don't ever seem to end. Not to be superficial or anything, but this weighs in at 734 pages in paperback and it's some of the most memorable writing I will ever leave behind me. Shalamov survived 15 years in the Gulag and lived to write wonderfully about his horrible experiences. Why are even Russians with frozen hands and digging with home-made tools in frozen rock able to be great writers? I'm not sure it ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Back in the 1970's, it seemed that every other bookshelf at college had a copy of "The Gulag Archipelago". It's impact was great, though it was a dry, detailed read. Some, like myself, managed to get through volume 2; not many managed to get through the third volume. "Kolyma Stories" is what the earlier books could have been.
Because Shalamov fictionalises his experiences, he is able to give an impression of what the Gulag felt like and how brutal it was. This means it is not dry like the earlie
Justin Kern
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
These are some really great fictionalized stories about the frozen arctic soviet gulag nightmare. And they seem to be based on firsthand experience which gives them depth and authenticity.

However this book isn't edited/compiled very well. it is a collection of this guy's works, and honestly some of the stories could have been cut. Some of them tell the same story, so it is just weird reading the same story multiple times.

Other than that I have no complaints and nothing else really to say. Must r
John Mcdonnell
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More raw, less ideological than Solzhenitsyn. Shalamov does not believe he is redeemed by the camps, but they did teach him things about human nature that one would prefer to learn vicariously. Short stories are a good format for this sort of material. Rated 4 stars because they take an emotional toll; it's probably not necessary to read the whole thing through. ...more
James Spencer
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of these stories are very short, some only a couple of pages and they vary in quality, some being truly brilliant and some less so. Shalamov is at times repetitive telling the same stories or pieces of stories more than once. However, in the end, this collection brings home the horror of Stalin's Gulag in as detailed a form as any of Solzenitsyn. ...more
Chet Taranowski
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good long read. However very much a downer. There was a lot of suffering in the Russian Gulag and this book describes it in great detail. Nevertheless, I was very engaged by the stories. Humans can endure a great deal.
Robert Boyd
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature, russia
Overwhelming. As I read it, I wondered how much of it was fiction and how much was memoir? He structured his stories as stories (except for a few longish pieces, like "Courses: First Things First", in which Shalamov describes in detail his training as a paramedic (a job that saved his life). ...more
Oliver Thomas
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible - the best Gulag literature I've yet read: more blunt and less moralistic than Solzhenitsyn, who I also love. Not an easy read by any means, but one that I'm glad to have worked through. The story "The Apostle Paul" is one of the most devastating pieces of writing I've ever come across. ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Do not read when you need to be cheered up. The writing is really good Russian writing, you can feel the desolation, cold and hopelessness.
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in my life. I recommend it unconditionally.

(Yes it's better than Solzhenitsyn)
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shalamov has a slightly different perspective from Solzhenitsyn, and a more matter-of-fact writing style. I enjoyed these stories and expect to come back to them again.
« previous 1 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
NYRB Classics: Kolyma Stories, by Varlam Shalamov 1 9 Dec 06, 2018 12:24PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Dora Bruder
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • The Emperor
  • Просто Маса
  • Your Brain On Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction
  • Forever Flowing
  • The Go-Between
  • Непобедимое солнце
  • The Corner That Held Them
  • 3,096 Days
  • ПОСТ (ПОСТ, #1-10)
  • Grădina de sticlă
  • Dead Lies Dreaming (Dead Lies Dreaming #1)
  • The Eternal Husband and Other Stories
  • Hard to Be a God
  • Primeval and Other Times
  • Noi
  • Зулейха открывает глаза
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

Diverse voices and sparkling debuts dominate today's contemporary short story collections. For this roundup, we took a look at the...
95 likes · 10 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »