Just Send Me Word
A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
By Orlando Figes
(Metropolitan Books, Hardcover, 9780805095227, 352pp.)
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
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A heroic love story and an unprecedented inside view of one of Stalin's most notorious labor camps, based on a remarkable cache of letters smuggled in and out of the Gulag
"I went to get the letters for our friends, and couldn't help but feel a little envious, I didn't expect anything for myself. And suddenly—there was my name, and, as if it was alive, your handwriting."
In 1946, after five years as a prisoner—first as a Soviet POW in Nazi concentration camps, then as a deportee (falsely accused of treason) in the Arctic Gulag—twenty-nine-year-old Lev Mishchenko unexpectedly received a letter from Sveta, the sweetheart he had hardly dared hope was still alive. Amazingly, over the next eight years the lovers managed to exchange more than 1,500 messages, and even to smuggle Sveta herself into the camp for secret meetings. Their recently discovered correspondence is the only known real-time record of life in Stalin's Gulag, unmediated and uncensored.
Orlando Figes, "the great storyteller of modern Russian historians" (Financial Times), draws on Lev and Sveta's letters as well as KGB archives and recent interviews to brilliantly reconstruct the broader world in which their story unfolded. With the powerful narrative drive of a novel, Just Send Me Word reveals a passion and endurance that triumphed over the tragic forces of history.
Orlando Figes is the author of The Crimean War, The Whisperers, Natasha's Dance, and A People's Tragedy, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. The recipient of the Wolfson History Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among others, Figes is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London.
"An enchanting marvel that reacquaints our technologically sophisticated but verbally deficient world with the power of the epistle to sustain love in the most trying of circumstances...A gem of a book." --The Boston Globe "Timely and important...What gives Just Send Me Word its power is the intimate, granular detail of Gulag life, of how men and women attempted to create a semblance of normality in the most abnormal of circumstances."--The Daily Beast "A heroic, absolutely astounding love story." --Minneapolis Star-Tribune "Wonderful...Just Send Me Word blends Gulag and sentiment in its loftiest application into a “you- can’t- put- it- down” book and Orlando Figes, a modern master of Russian cultural history, brings off a worthy successor to Natasha’s Dance." --Washington Independent Review of Books "A remarkable love story intertwined with a rare glimpse into a harsh chapter of Soviet history."--Christian Science Monitor "Drawing on more than 1,200 letters between Lev and Svetlana “Sveta” Mishchenko, and interviews with the couple, veteran historian Figes tells a remarkable tale of love and devotion during the worst years of the USSR...His fine narrative pacing enhances this moving, memorable story." --Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) "A heart-rending record of extraordinary human endurance." --Kirkus Reviews
“A book to astonish readers: never before has Stalin’s Gulag been the setting for a love affair. This powerful narrative by a distinguished historian will take its place not just in history but in literature.”--Robert K. Massie, author of Catherine the Great
"Orlando Figes, a serious scholar who can reach wide general audiences, has done it again...An engaging portrait of a revealing and intimate relationship within almost unimaginable conditions." --History Book Club