Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mini-Review of "The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story" - Sergei Dovlatov Speaks From The Gulag

Sergei Dovlatov has a unique and a sardonic voice, speaking about life in the Soviet Union from the relative safety of his new home in New York City.  This memoir, "The Zone, " first published in 1982, mixes elements of fiction with autobiography.  He digs deeply into his memory of his time as a prison guard in the Siberian Gulag to comment on the absurdity of life in the Soviet era.  In this writing, the prison system stands for the larger state with its inhuman practices and stultifying philosophy and world view.

Early in this little book, Dovlatov makes it clear that he is not reprising the writings of Solzhenitsyn.    In his view, Solzhenitsyn in his watershed trilogy of prison books, "The Gulag Archipelago," speaks from the vantage point of a political prisoner.  Dovlatov speaks from his perspective as a guard.  The irony is that as a guard, he and his fellow prison guards were no less imprisoned or constrained than those they were expected to watch over.

The insights he shares and the light he sheds of that closed period of history speaks poignantly even thirty years after he first put pen to paper and smuggled the writings piecemeal out of the USSR.  The book is both entertaining and educational for anyone who has even a passing interest in what life was like in the Soviet Union - on either side of the prison bars.



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