Published: 1 December 2016
Hardback, Demy HB
138x216mm, 288 pages
The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard
Translated from the Russian by Arch Tait.
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.
‘Written in a beautiful, educated hand [...] these notebooks are, so far, unique in confirming the insight of the gulag inmate Varlam Shalamov: that the system dehumanised the guards as much as the prisoners’ Donald Rayfield
‘A rare and fascinating insight into the Soviet camp system, and a reminder that the imprisoned weren't its only victims’ Anna Reid, author
‘A record of this sensitive man's rapid dehumanisation’ Robert Eustace
‘The diary of Ivan Chistyakov is unique - a narrative of the brutal conditions in Stalin's Gulag, told from the point of view of one of the captors... Told with a telling eye for detail, the diary is a crushingly bleak portrait of casual violence, unfulfillable quotas, endless fights and escape attempts, inefficiency and injustice - all played out against the deadly dark and cold of a Siberian winter... Perhaps the most chilling psychological insight offered by the diary is the portrait of a humane man conforming to an inhuman system... There is no redemption in The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard - only a portrait of the banality of evil, and the part that the daily compromises made by a single broken man, play in a vast machine of terror’ Owen Matthews