Return from the Archipelago

Return from the Archipelago

Narratives of Gulag Survivors
Leona Toker
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/22/2000
Format: Hardback 1 bibliog., 1 index
ISBN: 978-0-253-33787-0
Bookmark and Share

Other formats available:

Buy from Amazon


A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2001

This is a ground-breaking book on a subject of capital importance, and I think [it] should start a debate about modern literature with a rich potential for further development." —Michael Scammell

Return from the Archipelago is the first comprehensive historical survey and critical analysis of the vast body of narrative literature about the Soviet gulag. Leona Toker organizes and characterizes both fictional narratives and survivors’ memoirs as she explores the changing hallmarks of the genre from the 1920s through the Gorbachev era. Toker reflects on the writings and testimonies that shed light on the veiled aspects of totalitarianism, dehumanization, and atrocity. Identifying key themes that recur in the narratives-arrest, the stages of trial, imprisonment, labor camps, exile, escapes, special punishment, the role of chance, and deprivation.Toker discusses the historical, political, and social contexts of these accounts and the ethical and aesthetic imperative they fulfill. Her readings provide extraordinary insight into the prisoners’ experiences of the Soviet penal system. Special attention is devoted to the writings of Varlam Shalamov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but many works that are not well known in the West, especially those by women, are addressed. Consideration is also given to events that recently brought many memoirs to light years after they were written. A pioneering book on an important subject, Return from the Archipelago is an authoritative resource for scholars in Russian history and literature.

Author Bio

Leona Toker is Professor of English at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her previous works include Nabokov: The Mystery of Literary Structures and Eloquent Reticence: Withholding Information in Fictional Narrative.


“" . . . a far-ranging and penetrating study of Russian 'camp literature.' . . . provides a historical sketch of the 'archipelago' . . . " — Choice "This is a ground-breaking book on a subject of capital importance. Camp literature deserves to be recognized and read beyond its human rights context for its profound insights into the human condition and great formal beauty. Toker establishes beyond any shadow of doubt its place in the modern canon." —Michael Scammell This first systematic literary investigation of memoirs and fictional narratives dealing with the experience of the prisoners of Soviet concentration camps surveys the gulag corpus from the 1920s to the 1990s and discusses its landmark texts as sources of historical testimony and as works of art.”

“Toker (Hebrew Univ., Jerusalem) provides a far-ranging and penetrating study of Russian camp literature. Traditionally read chiefly for its horrifying content, this literature has received little attention for its aesthetic qualities. Toker concedes the priority of the moral aspect but places her topic in wider contexts. She first provides a historical sketch of the archipelago, as Solzhenitsyn, its most famous survivor, described the vast camp system stretching across the Soviet Union. Although the author examines many accounts, those of Solzhenitsyn are at the book's core: these and Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov's story cycles provide the basis for such meta-literary issues as the interrelations of factography, history, memoir, and fiction; the structure of camp writings (from arrest through release); and the relation to Russian literary tradition. Many classics of the genre (by Evgenia Ginzburg, the Pole Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, the American Alexander Dolgun) serve as sources in formulating a composite model. Also addressed are writers who may or may not have served camp time but whose fictions take place in their shadow, e.g., Iurii Dombrovskii, Georgi Vladimov, A. Siniavskii, Sergi Dovlatov. Toker provides an excellent survey of a genre and a judicious consideration of the many issues it raises. Russian and English bibliography. Upper-division undergraduates and above; general readers.July 2001”
 — D. B. Johnson, emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

Customer Reviews

There are currently no reviews
Write a review on this title.

Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:

A Note on Sources
1. Soviet Labor Camps: A Brief History
2. The Literary Corpus: Memoirs
3. Camp Memoirs as a Genre
4. The Gulag Archipelago
5. From Factography to Fictionalization
6. Varlam Shalamov
7. The Gulag Fiction of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
8. In the Wake of Testimony
Works Cited