Varlam Shalamov

Authors catalogue

Leona Toker

Professor of English Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Author of Return from the Archipelago: Narratives of Gulag Survivors (2000), Eloquent Reticence: Withholding Information in Fictional Narrative (1993), Nabokov: The Mystery of Literary Structures (1989) and articles on English, American, and Russian writers. Editor of Commitment in Reflection: Essays in Literature and Moral Philosophy (1994); co-editor of Rereading Texts / Rethinking Critical Presuppositions: Essays in Honour of H.M. Daleski (1996).
Link to russian page of Leona Toker.

  • Leona Toker Testimony and Doubt: Shalamov’s “How It Began” and “Handwriting”

  • “Shalamov’s placing of factographic pieces side by side with fictionalized ones, with the mode, factual or fictional, of some of the stories, such as “Condensed Milk” remaining vague, is, among other things, a signal to the reader that all his materials are to be read as testimony, while – and though – the questions that are to be asked of them are the questions that one asks of fiction, viz. questions about symbolism (it is Krist rather than the interrogator who gets the vitamin-rich turnip peelings; the interrogator’s scurvy-ridden smile and his opening of the stove briefly illuminate the room, and, as it were, one’s soul), thematic coherence (the incuriosity of the exhausted prisoners), conservation of character (the little we know of he interrogator makes his burning of Krist’s file plausible), or stylistic economy. And if testimony is needed in cases of factual uncertainty, fictional devices, which may undermine the epistemological efficacy of the narrative as testimony, may also enhance is power of preempting moral doubt”.