This is a rare first-person testimony of the hardships of a Soviet labour camp, written up in a couple of exercise books which were anonymously donated to the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow. At the back of the books there is a blurred snapshot and a note, 'Chistyakov, Ivan Petrovich, repressed in 1937-38. Killed at the front in Tula Province in 1941'.
They are all that remains of Ivan Chistyakov, a senior guard at the Baikal Amur Corrective Labour Camp (Bamlag) and a cultured and urbane ex-city dweller with a secret nostalgia for pre-Revolutionary Russia. Chistyakov does not just record his life in the camp, but narrates it; he is a sharp-eyed witness and a sympathetic, humane and broken man.
From stumblingly poetic musings on the bitter landscape of the taiga to matter-of-fact grumbles about the inefficiency of his stove, from accounts of the brutal conditions of the camp to reflections on the cruelty of loneliness, this diary is an astonishing record - a visceral and immediate description of a place and time whose repercussions still affect the shape of modern Russia, and modern Europe.