Varlam Shalamov

Best Praise

Twice in the course of my life I have received praise which I now consider the best and the most flattering. The first came from the Secretary-General of Society of Political Convicts, former social revolutionary Alexander Georgievich Andreev, who was my cellmate at Butyrskaya prison for several months in 1937. Andreev was released sooner than me, and as we kissed good-bye he said: “Well, Varlam Tikhonovich, what can I tell you as farewell? Only this: you know how to take imprisonment”.

The second praise came twenty years later, in November 1953, when I met Pasternak in Lavrushinski side street: “I can tell you, Varlam Tikhonovich, that your definition of the rhyme as a search tool is the same as Pushkin’s. It’s common nowadays to quote authorities. That’s what I do as well – I quote Pushkin”. Of course, Boris Leonidovich was prone to exaggeration and we should make a considerable allowance here, yet I felt honoured.

Translated by Maria Desyatova

Collected works in 4 volumes [edited by I. Sirotinskaya], Moscow, Khudozhestvennaya literatura, Vagrius, 1998.