In Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch and The First Circle, we are presented with a Dantesque vision of Stalinist Russia. But, unlike Dante, there are only two circles in Solzhenitsyn's Inferno. At the very bottom, as in Dante's Ninth Circle, those guilty of treason are trapped within the ice. According to that author's scheme of poetic justice: having refused to show warmth of feeling to others, they are denied the very heat and light of the sun. In Solzhenitsyn system of suffering this is a penal camp in Siberia. At its uppermost level, his First Circle, is a technical institute on the outskirts of

Moscow. Here, as in Dante's Limbo, each prisoner waits: on the one hand, dreading the possibility of

transit back to the camps; on the other, hoping one day to return to their families. But having once served as the system's prisoners, they remain under the watchful eye of the state; and are therefore likely to be denied what few rights their fellow citizens possess. Let us begin with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, which describes the experience of a prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. Having been unjustly accused of spying for the Germans after being captured during World War II, he has been sentenced to ten years hard labor:


"Reveille was sounded, as always, at  5 A.M.- a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ. The

ringing noise came faintly  on and off through the windowpanes covered with ice more than an inch thick

(p. 1)..."


Torn out of sleep by the harsh sound of iron against iron, he lies in darkness, cold and hungry. Suddenly we are thrust into the world of the "zeks", prisoners of the vast Gulag Archipelago. Here, hard labor and scrounging- for food, rags,  bits of firewood- are their daily means of survival:


"Anyway, how could anyone get warm here, what with the ice piled up on the window, and a white cobweb of frost running along the whole barracks...Shukhov stayed in bed. He was lying on the top bunk, with his blanket and overcoat over his head and both his feet tucked in the sleeve of his jacket (p.



On top of cold, fatigue and hunger, Shukhov wakes up ill, "His whole body was one big ache (p. 4)..." What's more, he remembers that today his work gang is to begin the building of a new "Socialist Community Development". "You could bet your life that for a month there'd be no place where you could get warm...So your only hope was to work like hell (p. 4)..." So he will try to get on the hospital sick list.


The assistant boss of their gang informs them that they have been shortchanged on their daily bread ration; then the boss of their gang, the Captain, returns  to report it's at least twenty below, outside. This clinches Shukhov's decision to go to the infirmary. All around him the prisoners are getting out of bed to dress. More than two hundred men slept in the fifty, bug-ridden bunks. But because Shukhov has remained in bed, ill, he is surprised by one of the guards, the Tartar, who orders that he be sent to "the

can" (solitary  confinement). Unable to convince the Tartar of his illness, Shukhov  rises and begins his

daily dress routine:



"...(he) pulled on his padded trousers (they too had a worn, dirty piece of doth sewed above the knee, with the number S-854 painted on it in black and already faded), put on his jacket (this had two numbers, one on the chest and one on the back), took his boots from the pile on the floor, put on his cap (with the same number in front), and went out after the Tartar (p. 7,8)..."


From the barracks they emerge into the twenty below winter fog of the camp. At its far corners are watchtowers whose searchlights crisscross the compound. So powerful are their beams that they blot out the stars, themselves. The prisoner's felt boots crunch the snow as their shoulders are hunched against the wind. They pass the high wooden fence of the punishment block, the barbed-wire guarding the bakery, and a thermometer hung on a frost-covered rail, completely caked over with ice. Instead of being placed in "the can", Shukhov is set to work mopping the floor of the warder's room, whose stove

is blazing away. But from this precious moment of warmth, he is forced out again into the cold to fill his bucket. By the time he returns his ears ache and his hands are frozen, but he has at least managed to keep his boots dry:


"During his eight years inside, Shukhov had seen all kinds of ups and downs in the footwear situation. There had been times when they'd gone around all winter without any felt boots at all, times when they hadn't even seen ordinary boots but only shoes made out of birch bark...or made of strips of tire...Now the boot situation had begun to look up...Shukhov had gotten a pair of sturdy boots...For a week he was on top of the world (p.11, 12)..."


Having finished mopping the floor in the warder's room, Shukov now heads for the mess hall. Here, the gangs of prisoners elbow their way with trays, carrying wooden bowls of gruel and mush to the tables for breakfast. The mess hall is so cold that most eat with their caps on. By the time Shukhov arrives, his breakfast is cold:


"The only good thing about camp gruel was it was usually hot, but  what Shukhov had was now quite cold. Even so, he ate it slow and careful like he always did. Mustn't  hurry now, even if the roof caught fire.  Apart from sleeping, the prisoners' time was their own only for ten minutes at breakfast, five minutes at the noon break, and another five minutes at supper...The gruel didn't change...The fish was mostly bones...He didn't leave anything - not even the gills or the tail. He ate the eyes too (p. 16, 17)..."


From the mess hall, he heads to the hospital block to try to get on the sick list. But having arrived late, he fails to get permission to remain in the hospital. So he returns to his barracks, where his fellow zeks are readying themselves for work:


"The prisoners- they were now dressed in all their rags, tied around with all their bits of string and their faces wrapped in rags from chin to eyes to protect them from the cold (p. 25, 26)..."


Shukhov's fellow zek, Pavlo, has saved him his bread ration and a measure of sugar. He scoops up the sugar with his lips and carefully examines his bread ration to determine whether it is the full pound due him. Although he had never had the opportunity to weigh these rations on a scale, he could estimate its weight by turning it over in his hands. The experience of years of hunger in the camps had taught him to be a connoisseur of the weight of bread:



"...the people who cut up and issued your bread wouldn't last long if they gave you honest rations. Every ration was short. The only question was- by how much?...he  broke the bread in two...stuck half inside his clothes...He thought of eating the other  half...but  food eaten quickly isn't  food. It does no good, doesn't fill you (p. 27)..."


Finally, the prisoners are called outside by their gang boss. Bundled up against the cold with their every last rag and foot cloth, they file out without a word. Into the cold and darkness. With hunger still gnawing at their insides, they emerge reluctantly from the barracks:


"This was the toughest moment- when you lined up for roll call in the morning. Into the bitter cold..for the whole day. You'd lost the use of your tongue. You didn't want to talk to anyone (p. 30)..."


Shukhov spies one of his fellow zeks, Caesar, smoking a cigarette, and craves a smoke. But another zek, the scavenger, Fetyukov, also seeks the butt; and Shukhov is reluctant to beg for it. Caesar recognizes the deserving one, however, and passes the precious butt to Shukhov:


"...he was now smoking away till it burned his lips...The smoke seemed to go all through his hungry body and into his feet and his head. Just as this wonderful feeling spread all through him, Ivan Denisovich heard a roar from the men: "They're taking our undershirts away...!" (p. 34)..."


Now the zeks are searched by the guards. They frisk them for anything that might be used as a weapon, and for extra food or civilian clothing that might be used in an escape. Then the prisoners are forced to strip off any extra clothing that is against the camp's regulations. Their brave gang boss, the Captain­ who is new to the camp- confronts the cruel Commandant, Volkovoy, objecting to their stripping men

in the cold. For his gallant effort to protect his men, he is sentenced to ten days in "the can" (i.e. solitary confinement). Only at the conclusion of our journey through Solzhenitsyn's Ninth Circle, will we appreciate the fearfulness of this punishment.


The columns of prisoners are marched outside the camp by an escort of guards with tommy guns, and attack dogs barring their teeth. They finally arrive at the building site, a vast compound with watchtowers and a heated guardhouse. By this time, Shukhov's face rag has turned into an icy crust, his hands are frozen, and the toes of his left foot, numb. On top of this, he has an aching pain from the small of his back to his shoulders:


"The sun came up, red and hazy, over the empty compound. There were panels for prefabs covered

over with snow, and the beginning of a brick wall they'd  stopped work on. Then there was a broken part of a bulldozer. And there  was a scoop and some metal scrap. There were ditches, trenches, and holes all over the place...This was the best moment of the day for a prisoner...they now had a moment to could find some warm spot and stay there for a spell before  you started  breaking your back (p. 52)..."


Shukhov receives his order to lay bricks with his fellow zek, Kilgas. They are both skilled workers, Shukhov, a carpenter, Kilgas, a bricklayer. But a workman needs his tools, so Shukhov goes off to fetch his trowel from where he had hidden it the previous night:



"A trowel is a great help to a bricklayer when it's light and fits his hand. But on every working site it's a rule that at night you hand in all the tools they gave you in the morning. And it's a matter of luck what tool you get next day...he hid it in a different place every night and got it in the mornings...he rolled away a small stone and stuck his fingers in a crack...There it was! (p. 61)..."


With Kilgas, Shukhov walks through the compound to the power plant, where the two are to work on the unfinished brick wall:


"No one had been in the power plant for a long time, and the snow all around it was

would be good if the hoist was working. But the motor had burned out...Which meant they'd once more have to carry everything up to the second story themselves- the mortar and the bricks. The power plant had been there for two months, like a gray skeleton in the snow. But now Gang 104 had come. And

what kept them going? Their empty bellies were held in by rope belts. The cold was fierce. There was no

shelter and no fire. But they'd come and so life began again (p. 63)..."


A system of collective reward and punishment was employed in the camps. To prevent an individual from dragging his feet at the expense of the others, they were divided into gangs. If one didn't do his share, they all would suffer:


 “So when a really tough job came along, like now, you couldn't sit on your hands. Like it or not, you had to get a move on. Either they made the place warm within two hours or they'd all be fucking well dead (p. 67)..."


They get the stove burning, nail strips of felt up to protect them from the wind and begin to feed the cement mixer with sand and cement. They hammer together wooden hods to carry the mortar. Members of the group clean the snow off the brick wall, and when the truck with bricks arrives, they pause around the stove:


"Shukhov looked up to the sky and gasped. It was clear, and by the sun it was almost noon. It was a funny thing how time flew when you were working! He was always struck by how fast the days went in camp- you didn't have time to turn around. But the end of your sentence never seemed to be any closer (p. 73)..."


After lunch they settle down to work. The men pair off before the unfinished brick wall of the compound:


"All he saw now was the wall in front of him...He showed Senka where to hack off the ice and he hacked away at it himself for all he was worth (p. 106)...Shukhov never made a mistake. His bricks were always in line...He'd scoop up some steaming mortar with his trowel, throw it on, and remember how the groove of the brick ran so he'd get the next one on dead center (p.109)...Shukhov and the other bricklayers didn't feel the cold any more. They were now going all out and they were hot...But they

didn't stop for a second and went on working like crazy...The main thing was that they didn't get cold in their feet. Nothing else mattered (p.111)..."



At the end of the long day of labor, the gangs are marched back to the camp by the guards with their dogs:


"They counted you twice on the way out...And if they thought there was something wrong, they did a recount outside (p. 124)..."Get a move on there, you motherfuckers!" the guards yelled. "Line up!" They were counted now...Somebody was missing!...The worst thing about these recounts was it cut into your time, not theirs. And you still had to walk those two miles back to camp and line up in front of the friskers before they let you in (p. 129)...


After the missing prisoner is finally found and beaten by the guards, the gangs- freezing and furious at the zek who has kept them waiting- are marched back to the camp. Here, they are made to take off their boots to be searched. On the way many have picked up bits of firewood to heat the barracks (an example of scrounging). The guards order them to throw it on the ground, and to open their coats and jackets for frisking:


"Now they were back at the camp. It was the same as they'd left it in the morning- it was night then and it was night now (p. 145)..."


After racing to the package room to wait for the Captain's parcel from home, Shukhov finally arrives at the mess hall, where his gang has gathered at a table with their wooden bowls of mush:


"They didn't say a word to each other. These minutes were holy...He began to eat. He started with the watery stuff on the top and drank it right down. The warmth went through his body and his insides were sort of quivering waiting for that gruel to come down. It was great! This was what a prisoner lived for, this one little moment (p. 169)...Shukhov ate his supper without bread...he'd save the bread. You get no thanks from your belly- it always forgets what you've just done for it and comes begging again the next day (p.171)..."


As he finishes his gruel, Shukhov notices an elderly prisoner at a nearby table. He was a legend among the zeks, an "old hand" who had been in the camps forever. Shukhov takes a close look at him, who, unlike most of the others with their backs bent over their food, sits up as straight as a ramrod:


"...he'd lost all his hair...He didn't have a single tooth either top or bottom- he chewed the bread with his hard gums...His face...looked like it had been hewed out of stone. And you could tell from his big hands with the dirt worked in them he hadn't spent many of his long years doing any of the soft jobs. You could see his mind was set on one thing- never to give in (p. 172)..."


After dinner, Shukhov and his fellow zeks retire to the barracks, where he buys some tobacco and settles in for the night. But they are interrupted by one of the guards who comes in to deliver on the Commandant's Volkovoy's threat against the Captain: ten days in "the can":


"The Captain just gave a sigh and grunted. It must've been easier for him to sail his destroyer on a dark night in the stormy sea than to...go to that freezing cell (p. 186)...stone walls, a concrete floor, and no window. There was a stove, but that was only enough to melt the ice off the walls and make puddles on the floor. You slept on bare boards and your teeth chattered all night...Ten days! If you had ten days in



the cells here and sat them out to the end, it meant you'd be a wreck for the rest of your life. You got TB and you'd never be out of hospitals as long as you lived...Long as you were in the barracks you thanked your lucky stars and tried to keep out of the cells (p. 187)..."


But to add insult to injury, before they are allowed to sleep they are forced outside into the cold one more time for night check. "They were all outside now. There were four hundred men in a barracks, and that made eighty rows of five lined up one after the other (p. 192)...They were through now for the day! (p. 193)..."


The prisoners poured back into the barracks, where Shukhov jumps up on his bunk. In the precious few moments left, he could have finished off the hunk of bread he had saved or smoked another cigarette, but he would save them. Now he got into bed:


"Making his bed wasn't much trouble- he only had to pull that dark blanket off and flop down on the mattress (he hadn't slept on a sheet since forty-one)...put his head on the pillow stuffed with shavings, tuck his feet in the arm of his jacket, and spread his coat on top of the blanket. And that was that, the end of another day! "Thank god," he said. It wasn’t so bad sleeping here and he was glad not to be in the cells (p. 195)...There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his sentence, from reveille to lights out (p. 203)..."




As One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is devoted to the lowest level of Solzhenitsn’s Inferno, so The First Circle provides us with an intimate view of the designer of the system, losiph Vissarionovich Stalin. And Solzhenitsyn’s is one of the most scathing caricatures of a dictator in all of world literature. On his seventieth birthday we enter Stalin’s inner sanctum, as he lies upon his couch with its flower-patterned pillows. In the earliest hours of the morning, he is stretched out with his feet up, wearing soft Caucasian boots and the service jacket of a generalissimo:


"On the ottoman reclined the man whose likeness had been sculpted in stone; painted in oil...formed out of wayside pebbles...woven into rugs, pictured in the sky by squadrons of planes in formation ...This man's name filled the world's newspapers, was uttered by thousands...sung by tender young voices...proclaimed by bishops...given to a multitude  of cities and squares...mountain ranges...(in fact) a group...had proposed that it be the moon (p. 86)..."


At 2:00A.M., he  awaits a meeting with one of his subordinates. "...with a dessicated double chin, a mouth permeated with the smell of Turkish leaf tobacco, and fat fingers", he studies a small brown book: Stalin: A Short Biography. He meditates upon:


"His strategic genius.  His wise foresight...His iron will...His love for the people (p. 86, 87)..."


As he lies there brooding, we learn that "Night was Stalin's most fruitful time (p. 94)." Lying wrapped in a woolen shawl, we also learn that his inner sanctum has no windows. A special engineer has designed the heat and air conditioning. Beside his couch is a switch that operates a remote-controlled bolt in the



door. The door is not covered, because he does not like bed curtains, drapes, or recesses where someone might hide. It opens just far enough to admit a dog:


"With a groan Stalin let his legs down from the couch. He sat up and raised his hands to his reddish, graying hair on which a bald spot could be seen. Frustration and a vexation past relieving took hold of him. Like a legendary hero, Stalin had all his life been cutting off the hydra's ever-sprouting heads. He had disposed of a whole mountain of enemies in his lifetime (p. 91)..."


We learn of his re-writing of history to conform to the official version of events:


"The collected works of Lenin had been changed three times and those of the Founders twice. Everyone was long since asleep who had disagreed, who had been mentioned in the old footnotes, who had thought of building socialism in some other way (p. 92)..."


We learn of his gigantic system of show trials, in which the offenders have been made to confess their errors and repent:


"How many successful trials Stalin had conducted, how many enemies he had compelled to abase themselves and confess to any despicable crime...A carefree country can sleep, but not its Father (p.



Now he rises, unlocks the office door and, after passing through it, locks it securely behind him. He proceeds down the narrow, twisting, windowless corridor, past the one-way mirrors through which he spies on the entrance. He enters his bedroom, with its armor plate lining the walls. With a little key on his belt he unlocks a metal decanter and pours himself a small liqueur:


"All his best ideas were born between midnight and 4 A.M.:...How  to stretch  the working day and the work to bind laborers  and other employees  permanently to their  jobs; the  edict concerning hard labor and the gallows; the dissolution of the Third International; the exile of traitor populations to Siberia(p. 94}...But to Stalin it appeared that his contemporaries, though they called him the Wisest of the Wise, still did not admire him as much as he deserved, that their raptures were superficial, that they did not understand the profundity of his genius (p. 96)...And there  was no one to ask advice from; he alone on earth was a true philosopher (p. 98}..."


In these midnight meditations he gazes through a bullet-proof window at his private garden. Then he closes the steel shutter and returns to his desk, where he takes a pill:


"Coming generations would appreciate him...Everything depended on him...His brownish-gray, smallpox­

pitted face, with its great pillow of a nose, bent low over the sheet of paper (p. 99}..." Stalin now meets with his assistant Head of State Security, Abakumov:

"The strong, husky, decisive man stood rigid with fright each time he went to report to Stalin, just as

citizens during waves of arrests had quaked when they heard the tramp of steps on the stairs...These hour-long appointments were a heavy price to pay for all the power...He lived and enjoyed himself only



from appointment to appointment...Stalin was terrifying because one mistake in his presence could be that one mistake in life which set off an explosion, irreversible in effect...he did not listen to excuses, made no accusations; his yellow tiger eyes simply brightened balefully, his lower lids closed up a bit­ and there, inside him, sentence had been passed, and the condemned man didn't know it: he left in peace, was arrested at night, and shot by morning (p. 101,102)..."


As Stalin sits writing at his desk, Abakumov waits in fear, gazing up at the many portraits of the dictator on the walls:


"Stalin was thinking what he always thought when he saw his eager, ingratiating subordinates. His first thought always was: how far can this person be trusted? And his second: has not the moment come for this person to be liquidated?...Mistrust was losif  Djugashvili's determining trait. Mistrust was his world view. He had not trusted his mother. And he had not trusted that God before whom he had bowed his head to the stone floor for eleven years of his youth...He did not trust his wives and mistresses. He did not trust his children. And he always turned out to be right...He had trusted one person...Adolph Hitler...It had almost- but not quite- cost him his neck. So now, once and for all, he mistrusted everyone (p. lO5)...He built his house like a labyrinth mousetrap, with three circles of fencing, and gates that weren't lined up with each other. And he had several bedrooms, and ordered which bed was to be

made up just before he retired. These arrangements did not seem to him signs of cowardice but merely the reasonable thing to do. His person was priceless (p. 108)..."




From its portrait of Stalin, we now enter The First Circle's world of the "sharashka", a research center manned by prisoners, "zeks", in the suburbs of Moscow. Here, at the Mavrino Institute, many of the prisoners are academics, scientists and technicians who- unlike the prisoners in the penal camps- are adequately fed and subject to reasonable, although very lengthy, working hours. With the arrival of a group of new prisoners from the penal camps, we are initiated into the profound difference between the camps and the sharashka:


"...What does 1Sharashka' mean?"


“And how much bread do they give you here?"


“White bread- fourteen ounces, and the black bread is out on the table."






... on the table?"



“Just that...You want it, you take it..."






...but for that...we have to break our backs..."



“...You're not breaking your back if you're sitting at a desk. The one who breaks his back is the guy who swings a pick..."



"...You head is spinning from this sudden change...They won't be driving me out into icy water...They don't forbid books!...The guards don't beat the zeks...Perhaps I'm in heaven."


" are, as you were previously, in hell. But you have risen to its best and highest circle- the first circle {p. 7,8)..."


Although the institute's prisoners are treated far better than those in the camps, their work is for the sole purpose of aiding state security to oppress their fellow citizens. The chief project with which they are currently engaged is the "vocoder", a special telephone for Stalin, himself, which  would allow him to speak without being understood by anyone monitoring the call. This same device will be used to identify the voices of the "enemies of the state". This brings us to the main plot of our novel. Because The First Circle is a vast tapestry of characters and their stories, we will only be able to follow two of its threads: the tales of State Counselor lnnokenty Volodin,  and that of the zek mathematician, Gleb Nerzhin. Volodin's story begins with a telephone call.


He learns that his former family doctor, Dr. Dobrounov,  is threatened by state security because he had offered a newly discovered medicine to foreign doctors. He decides to call and warn him, but is afraid that it might be traced. He leaves his office and takes a taxi to find a public telephone that is less likely to be monitored. On his way he passes the dreaded Bolshaya Lubyanka, a gray-black hulk of a prison that soars like a battleship above the streets of Moscow (at the end of our story, Volodin will visit this prison, himself). Anxious at the danger in which he is placing himself:


"...he realized clearly that he had no other choice...lf one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being? (p. 3)..."


He stops at a public telephone and dials Dr. Dobrounov,  but is unable to warn him before the conversation is interrupted by someone monitoring the line. Volodin's story now intersects that of Nerzin, who is working on the vocoder that will eventually identify Volodin's voice.  Nerzhin, at 31,is a mathematician and veteran of the Mavrino Institute:


"The sharashka...had been put to work on secret telephone communications...And here, on Rubin's and

Nerzhin's desks, it had reached the stage of identifying voices on the telephone {p. 20)..."


Nerzhin is summoned to the office of the chief of the institute, Yakonov, where he meets an old mathematics colleague,  Pyotr Verenyov,  from his university years. Verenyov has come to join the institute's work on the vocoder. Yakonov leaves the two of them alone to reminisce:


"This pale man...seemed to the prisoner Nerzhin a ghost...In the nine year period that separated them there had been the glaring, bare cells, the "boxes" of the Bolshaya Lubyanka; gray, stinking transit prisons; stifling compartments of "Stolypin" transports; the cutting wind of the steppe. All this made it impossible to recover the feelings that had been his when he had written out the functions of an independent variable on the yielding surface of a linoleum blackboard (p. 40)..."


Verenyov,  having experienced the life of an academic during those same nine years, wonders why

Nerzhin was even arrested:



"Nerzhin laughed.."Why 'after all'? For my turn of mind, Pyotr Trofimovitch. In Japan they have a law under which a person can be tried for his unexpressed thoughts."


"In Japan! But we have no such laws."


"Indeed we do, and it's called Section 58, Paragraph 10 (p. 42)..."


This is the section of the penal code under which Nerzhin and many of his fellow zeks were falsely charged. Verenyov tries to convince Nerzhin that if he only applies himself to the work on the vocoder, that he will be freed and the conviction on his record removed. But Nerzhin, unlike Verenyov, realizes the work he is engaged in is not merely applied research, but will be used to hunt down and capture his fellow citizens:


"They'll remove the conviction from my record!" Nerzhin cried angrily, his eyes narrowing...'You've worked  well, so we'll free you, forgive you.' No, Pyotr Trofimovich...let them admit  first that it's not right to put people in prison for their  way of thinking, and then we will decide whether we will forgive them (p. 43)..."


Now we turn from Nerzin's to Volodin's story. It had only been the day before yesterday that he had made his fateful telephone call:


"He had acted in the heat of strong emotions, and he was left devastated, exhausted. When he had

made that call, he had never imagined  how fear would grow in him, how it could burn him out. If he had, he could never have called (p. 489)...''


At the end of the day he receives a telephone call from his superior, who informs him that a car is being sent to pick him up for a meeting between them. He mistakenly believes it concerns his diplomatic assignment to Paris. A chauffeured automobile arrives, and they proceed to drive through the streets of Moscow. On their way they pick up another another security officer, who presents Volodin with a green sheet of paper:


"-the warrant for the arrest-"...And only then was he pierced, as by a single long needle, through the entire  length of his body. He felt he had suddenly been drenched in burning pitch. He opened his mouth, but no sound came (p. 521)..."


The car finally arrives at the Old Lubyanka, the world  famous prison that he had glimpsed so recently under such different circumstances. Around him trolley buses sway and honk, and dense crowds of people passed by oblivious to his plight:


"A red flag, brightly lit by a concealed searchlight, could be seen fluttering though a gap in the pillared turret on top of the Old Lubyanka building. Two half-recumbent stone naiads gazed down contemptuously on the tiny citizens below...Biack iron gates opened the instant the car approached and closed as soon as it had passed through. Beneath a black archway the car moved silently into a courtyard...lnnokenty looked around...The courtyard was the bottom of a well, walled in by the buildings



rising around it...On the door, instead of a doctor's name plate, hung the sign: RECEPTION OF ARRESTED PERSONS (p. 522,523)..."


They lead him into a small, windowless cell, strip him of all his valuables and then leave him alone:



"So this was where he was destined to live now! was impossible  to call this place a was not only impossible  to walk around  or lie down, but one hardly had room to sit. A little table and a stool occupied almost the entire floor space. Sitting on a stool, it was impossible  to stretch out one's legs...the walls and ceiling were bright  white, lit dazzlingly by a two-hundred-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling in a wire cage...Once every minute the lid of the peephole  was lifted and a single, searching eye observed lnnokenty through the glass (p. 525)..."


He is interrogated, stripped, showered, and his head shaved. His mouth is shoved open and his teeth, eyes and privates examined as if he were a horse up for auction:


"Each time...they asked him to do something that seemed inconsequential...and each time it seemed not worth being stubborn about something so trivial. But the total effect of the procedure was to break the prisoner's will completely...These procedures threw the prisoner off balance and deprived him of his ability to reason and his capacity to resist. Now lnnokenty's single tormenting desire was to sleep

{p.532, 537)..."


Each time he tries to lie down in the cramped cell to sleep, the door opens with a crash and the guard shouts "Get Up!" He stretches his aching body and rises to his feet; then the guard leaves. He watches the angry eye through the peephole. Once again he tries to sleep, only to be awakened by the crash of the door and hoarse cry of the guard. Later, he is dragged out of his cell in the middle  of the night to be photographed and fingerprinted:


11The destructive intent of the first hours of prison is to isolate the new prisoner  from his fellows, so that there is no one to offer him any encouragement, so that the weight of the whole  apparatus bears down on him alone...the  prisoner  follows obediently the humiliating and hateful prison regime, which slowly kills the human being within him...Good and evil had now been substantively defined for lnnokenty, and visibly distinguished from one another, by that bright gray door, by those olive walls, by that first prison night (p. 541,545,548,553)..."


From Volodin we return to Nerzin, who, having refused to engage in work that would be used to oppress his fellow citizens, is to be transported from the sharashka back to the camps. The author tells us what Nerzin now faces at having refused to become an accomplice in the system of oppression:


11A transport is a turning point in a prisoner's life, as fateful as a wound is to a soldier...the transport strikes the fragile structure of his life like a thunderbolt- always without warning, always catching him off guard...the zek puts his hands behind his back...surrounded by dogs and guards, he goes off to his railroad car...The zek enters the railroad car...Where are they being taken? They are not told...Will the zek get scurvy and dystrophy...Perhaps he will not arrive...In a cattle car he may die of either dysentery or of hunger...Or  the guard may beat him with a hammer...Or, at the end of the journey  in an unheated


car, they may toss out the frozen corpses of the zeks like logs...For them the half-free, unpersecuted life of the sharashka zeks had ended...the taiga and the tundra  awaited  them, the record cold of Oymyakon and the copper excavations of Dzhezkazgan; pick and barrow; starvation rations of soggy bread; the hospital; death. The very worst. But there was peace in their hearts. They were filled with the fearlessness of those who have lost everything, the fearlessness which is not easy to come by but which endures (p. 557, 558,579)..."



© 2015 By Mark Dickman