Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales is generally recognised — at least by Russians and readers of Russian — as a masterpiece of Russian prose and the greatest work of literature about the Gulag; this thousand-page cycle of stories draws mainly on Shalamov’s experiences as a prisoner in Kolyma, a vast area in the far northeast of the USSR that, throughout most of the Stalin era, was in effect a mini-State run by the NKVD; most of the inmates of its hundreds of camps were either felling trees or mining coal or gold. Shalamov’s poetry, however, still has few readers even in Russia, although he himself seems to have valued it above his prose.
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