Keep Forever by Aleksandr Konstantinovich Sokolenko
Gulag Memoirs

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In the freezing nights of a labor camp, fifty prisoners "settle in like herring in a barrel, tightly nuzzled next to each other, and someone among them would cover the rest with clothing". And then the night-time storyteller begins his tale.

Aleksandr Sokolenko's four true stories of life in the Soviet camps detail a world of baffling catch-22s, but also of intense community. From farm work to timber-driving, wrestling marmots to runaway brides, the daily reality captivates.

Vivid characters fill the pages: the aged merchant Semyonov's rich life history and wry acceptance ("At least here, they can't arrest you"); the thief-king who tries to break free from his followers; the high-society orphan who turns barbering into an art; and the inept, vicious Captain Ivanov. Stepping back to narrate their stories as well as his own, Sokolenko offers us a broader picture of the USSR and its history, as lived by his fellow inmates.

The human suffering is blunt and clear - scurvy, starvations, injustice, drownings - but what lingers is a sense of humans' capacity for kindness and boundless talents.

Keep Forever, they stamped on his prison files, and Keep Forever is what we must do with these stories.

About Aleksandr Konstantinovich Sokolenko

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Aleksandr Konstantinovich Sokolenko was born September 11, 1907 in the village of Ovoshchi, in Stavropol Gubernia. In his youth, he worked on a farm, helping his grandfather, who owned a large farmstead that produced wheat. He was graduated from the Rostov Pedagogical Institute. For some time (in 1941), he worked at the Semipalatinsk Pedagogical Institute, where he headed the Russian language department and wrote a dissertation on esthetics in literature. In 1944, upon arriving in Shakhty, Rostov Oblast, he was arrested and sentenced to serve a 7-year sentence (under article 58-10, for so-called Ğanti-Soviet propagandağ). He was exonerated in 1956. Camp living conditions experienced by A. K. Sokolenko varied a great deal. He performed hard labor on a timber drive down mountain rivers; he also worked as the chief agronomist or manager of a production detachment in a large agricultural camp. While the timber drive along the Chilik river was actually absolute hell, the conditions at the agricultural camp in northern Kazakhstan were fully tolerable. After his release in 1951 and to the end of his life in 1970, A. K. Sokolenko lived in the exiles' village of Issyk, in Alma-Ata Oblast, and taught school to young workers. Besides his principal occupation, he studied the history of the Issyk village and authored a small volume on the subject. When A. K. Sokolenko understood that he was terminally ill, he wrote four sketches about his tenure in the camps, ĞOrder of the Red Banner,ğ ĞThe Ordeal,ğ ĞCaptain Ivanov's Crime,ğ and ĞEncounter on the Island of Tears.ğ These are portrait-like sketches. Only the last of these has been previously published in the 1989 issue of Yenisey magazine.
Published December 14, 2012 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 156 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel.

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A former prisoner recounts his years in the Soviet Gulag in this memoir.

Mar 05 2013 | Read Full Review of Keep Forever: Gulag Memoirs

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