Varlam Shalamov

About us

I'm glad to welcome you on the website devoted to Varlam Shalamov, which will help you discover the different facets of his biography and work. For the first time has such a volume of Shalamov's legacy been collected and concentrated in one place.

Irina Sirotinskaya

Varlam Shalamov was an uncompromising man who became a no less uncompromising writer. His short stories are not easy to understand. They require an interested reader with a thorough knowledge of the relevant historical background who is – and this is particularly important – fully aware of the trauma inflicted on Russia by Stalinism. Shalamov’s writing is crucial for the comprehension of this trauma. We are convinced that out of all the authors who wrote about Stalin’s camps, Shalamov is both the most brilliant and the most terrifying writer, who has gone far beyond the confines of the subject-matter on to such philosophical questions as the ethics of human existence and the role of the individual in history. His prose is not bound to a specific place or time. Unfortunately, Shalamov’s writing has received less attention than it deserves, both from the general public and from the researchers. Shalamov didn't fit any ideological pigeonholing.

Although a victim of Stalin’s repressions, he was by no means an accidental one. At the end of the 20s he was an active member of the Left Opposition and was sent to the Gulag for being a conscious anti-Stalinist, which he remained until the end of his life.

He emphasized his affinity for the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia and admired the courage of the revolutionaries from “Narodnaya Volya” and the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. After his release from the camps, he consciously distanced himself from the liberal (“dissident”) opposition, which he sarcastically called “the forward-thinking mankind”. He didn’t want to be used as a “weapon in the Cold War”, which has been the case with Solzhenitsyn, to whom Shalamov is often wrongly likened. He hoped to see his prose published at home, and not by anti-Soviet magazines abroad. It is Shalamov’s uncompromising attitude that is one of the main reasons why his work receives little attention and is distorted to serve specific ideological ends (for instance, in the Russian screen adaptations Lenin’s Testament and Major Pugachev's Last Battle).

Researchers’ interest in Shalamov is clearly insufficient, yet we believe that it is bound to grow, which is why there will be a need for a place of reference and exchange. We hope that shalamov.ru will help to build such an academic and cultural community.

The main goals of our site are:

  • To make more people read Shalamov. This is key to a correct assessment of 20th century Russia’s history as well as to a deeper understanding of today’s Russia.
  • To collect information about Shalamov's life and work that researchers currently do not have access to.
  • To create an interdisciplinary information centre where researchers can access academic works, article and book reviews, and thesis abstracts.
  • To report current events related to Shalamov and his legacy.

We hope to receive help and support from all those who are interested in Shalamov's prose and poetry, both scholars and readers alike. We welcome any feedback and proposals of partnership.

Site staff:

  • Editor-in-chief: Sergey Soloviov
  • Coordinator: Anna Gavrilova
  • Editorial board: Valery Yesipov, Anna Gavrilova, Sergey Agishev, Michael Dryomov, Alexander Averyushkin
  • Translations: Dmitry Ponomarenko, Mikhail Oslon, Maria Desyatova, Dmitri Subbotin
  • Programming: Alexey Moskvin, Igor Kovalenko, Ivan Kharlamov
  • Design: Ivan Kharlamov

This site was created with the approval and help from Irina Sirotinskaya, the legal heir and holder of Shalamov’s archive and in collaboration with the “Shalamov House”, Vologda.

This work was supported by grant number 08-03-12112в from the Russian Fund for the Humanities.

Acknowledgements:

First of all we would like to thank Irina Sirotinskaya, Shalamov’s long-time friend and his legal heir, who has done enormous work to make Shalamov’s writing better known, to get it published, and to organize research on the topic. Our site wouldn’t have been possible without her kind support.

The site was conceived upon our visit to Shalamov Memorial Room in the Vologda Art Gallery housed in the building where Shalamov was born and grew up. Our conversations with Marina Vorono, the founder and director of the museum, who died tragically in December of 2005, led us to the idea. The site was developed with the help of her successors, Rimma Rozhina and Yelizaveta Konovalova, who gave us access to the museums’s collections.

We thank Alexander Belousenko, who was the first to publish Shalamov’s short stories on the web. This work was later continued by the Regional General Library of Vologda. We are grateful to its director, Nelli Belova, as well as to the creators of the first site dedicated to Shalamov, “Varlam Shalamov, the Dante of the 20th century”, Mariya Ilyushina and Yelena Naumova, who digitized the main bulk of Shalamov’s work; Natalya Farutina who compiled the most complete Shalamov bibliography up to 2004.

We also thank the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art and its director Tatyana Goryayeva for assistance in our work on Shalamov’s manuscripts.