Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag

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9781452608006: Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in 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, author of Natasha's Dance, 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.

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About the Author:

Orlando Figes is the author of several books, including The Crimean War, The Whisperers, Natasha's Dance, and A People's Tragedy.

James Langton trained as an actor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. An AudioFile Earphones Award winner, he has performed many voice-overs and narrated numerous audiobooks. James was born in York, England, and is now based in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Just Send Me Word
1Lev saw Svetlana first. He noticed her at once in the crowd of students waiting to be called to the entrance exam in the tree-lined courtyard of Moscow University. She was standing by the doorway to the Physics Faculty with a friend of Lev's who waved him over and introduced her as a classmate from his former school. They exchanged only a few words before the doors of the faculty were opened and they joined the throng of students on the staircase to the hall where the exam would be held.It was not love at first sight: both agree on that. Lev was far too cautious to fall in love so easily. But Svetlana had already caught his attention. She was of medium height, slim with thick brown hair, high cheekbones, a pointed chin, and blue eyes shining with a sad intelligence. She was one of only a half dozen women to gain admission to the faculty, the best for physics in the Soviet Union, along with Lev and thirty other men in September 1935. In a dark wool shirt, short grey skirt and black suede shoes, the same clothes she had worn as a schoolgirl, Svetlana stood out in this masculine environment. She had a lovely voice (she would sing in the university choir) which added to her physical attractiveness. She was popular, vivacious, occasionally flirtatious and known for her sharp tongue. Svetlana had no shortage of male admirers, but there was something special about Lev. He was neither tall nor powerfully built - he was slightly smaller than she was - nor as confident of his good looks as other young men of his age. He wore the same old shirt - the top button fastened but without a tie in the Russian style - in all the photos of him at the time. He was still more of a boy than a man in appearance. But he had a kind and gentle face with soft blue eyes and a full mouth, like a girl's.During that first term, Lev and Sveta (as he began to call her) saweach other frequently.1 They sat together in lectures, nodded to each other in the library, and moved in the same circle of budding physicists and engineers who ate together in the canteen or met in the student club near the entrance to the library where some would come for a cigarette, others just to stretch their legs and chat.Later, Lev and Sveta would go out in a group of friends to the theatre or the cinema; and then he would walk her home, taking the romantic route along the garden boulevards from Pushkin Square to the Pokrovsky Barracks near Sveta's house, where couples promenaded in the evening. In the student circles of the 1930s the conventions of courtship continued to be ruled by notions of romantic chivalry, notwithstanding the liberalization of sexual behaviour in some quarters after 1917. At Moscow University romances were serious and chaste, usually beginning when a couple separatedfrom their wider group of friends and he started to walk her home in the evenings. It was a chance to talk more intimately together, perhaps exchanging favourite lines of poetry, the accepted medium for conversations about love, a chance for them to kiss before they parted at her house.Lev knew that he was not alone in liking Sveta. He often saw her walking with Georgii Liakhov (the friend who had introduced him to Sveta) in the Aleksandr Gardens by the Kremlin Wall. Lev was too reserved to ask Georgii about his relations with Sveta, but one day Georgii said, 'Svetlana's such a lovely girl, but she's so intelligent, so terribly intelligent.' He said it in a way that made it clear to Lev that Georgii was intimidated by her intellect. As Lev would soon find out, Sveta could be moody, critical of others and impatient with people not as clever as herself.Slowly, Lev and Sveta drew closer. They were brought together by a 'profound sympathy', recalls Lev. Sitting in his living room more than seventy years later, he smiles at the memory of that first emotional connection. He thinks carefully before choosing his next words: 'It was not that we fell madly in love with each other, but there was a deep and permanent affinity.'Eventually they came to see themselves as a couple: 'Everybody knew that Svetlana was my girl because I didn't visit anybody else.'There was a moment when it became obvious to both of them. One afternoon, as they were walking in the quiet residential streets near Sveta's house on Kazarmennyi Pereulok (Barracks Lane), she took his hand and said, 'Let's go that way, I'll introduce you to my friends.' They went to see her closest friends from school, Irina Krauze, who was studying French at the Institute of Foreign Languages, and Aleksandra ('Shura' or 'Shurka') Chernomordik, who was studying medicine. Lev recognized this as a mark of Sveta's trust in him, as a sign of her affection, that she let him meet her childhood friends.Soon Lev was invited to Sveta's home. The Ivanov family had a private apartment with two large rooms and a kitchen - an almost unknown luxury in Stalin's Moscow, where communal apartments housing a family per room with one shared kitchen and toilet were the norm. Sveta and her younger sister, Tanya, lived in one room with their parents, the girls sleeping on a sofa that unfolded into a bed. Their brother, Yaroslav ('Yara'), lived with his wife, Elena, in the other room, where there was a large wardrobe, a glass-fronted cabinet for books and a grand piano used by the whole family. With its high ceilings and antique furniture, the Ivanov home was a tiny island of the intelligentsia in the proletarian capital.Sveta's father, Aleksandr Alekseevich, was a tall, bearded man in his mid-fifties with sad, attentive eyes and salt-and-pepper hair. A veteran Bolshevik, he had joined the revolutionary movement as a student at Kazan University in 1902, had been expelled and imprisoned, and then had re-enrolled in the Physics Faculty of St Petersburg University, where he had worked with the great Russian chemist Sergei Lebedev in the development of synthetic rubber before the First World War. After the October Revolution of 1917, Aleksandr had played a leading part in organizing the Soviet production of rubber. But he left the Party in 1921, officially for reasons of ill-health, although in reality he had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik dictatorship. During the next decade he went on two extended work trips to the West, before moving with his family to Moscow in 1930. This was the height of the Five Year Plan to industrialize the SovietUnion and the first great wave of Stalin's terror against 'bourgeois specialists', when many of Aleksandr's oldest friends and colleagues were rounded up as 'spies' or 'saboteurs' and shot or sent to labour camps. Aleksandr's foreign trips made him politically vulnerable, but somehow he survived and went on working for the cause of Soviet industry, rising to become the deputy director of the Resin Research Institute. In a household dominated by the ethos of the technical intelligentsia, all the children were brought up to study engineering or science: Yara went to the Moscow Machine-Building Institute, Tanya studied meteorology, and Sveta attended the Physics Faculty.Aleksandr welcomed Lev into his home. He enjoyed the presence of another scientist. Sveta's mother was more distant and reserved. A plump, slow-moving woman in her mid-fifties who wore mittens to cover up a hand disease, Anastasia Erofeevna was a Russian-language teacher in the Moscow Institute of the Economy, and had the stern demeanour of a pedagogue. She would screw up her eyes and peer at Lev through her thick-rimmed spectacles. For a long time he was scared of her, but towards the end of Sveta's and his first year at the university an incident occurred that altered everything. Sveta had borrowed Lev's notes for a lecture she had missed. When he came to pick them up before the first exam, Anastasia told him that she thought his notes were very good. It was not much - a small, unexpected compliment - but the softness of her voice was understood by Lev as a signal of acceptance by Anastasia, the gatekeeper of Sveta's family. 'I took it as a lawful pass into their home,' recalled Lev. 'I began to visit them more frequently, without feeling shy.' After their exams, in the long, hot summer of 1936, Lev would come for Sveta every evening and take her to Sokolniki Park to teach her how to ride a bicycle.For Lev acceptance by Sveta's family was always an important part of their relationship. He had no immediate family of his own. Lev was born in Moscow on 21 January 1917 - days before the cataclysm of the February Revolution changed the world for ever. His mother, Valentina Alekseevna, the daughter of a minor provincialofficial, had been brought up by two aunts in Moscow following the loss of both her parents at an early age. She was a teacher in one of the city's schools when she met Lev's father, Gleb Fedorovich Mishchenko, a graduate of the Physics Faculty of Moscow University who was then studying at the Railway Institute to become an engineer. Mishchenko was a Ukrainian name. Gleb's father, Fedor, had been a prominent figure in the nationalist Ukrainian intelligentsia, a professor of philology at Kiev University and a translator of ancient Greek texts into Russian. After the October Revolution, Lev's parents moved to a small Siberian town in the Tobolsk region called Beryozovo, which Gleb had got to know from surveying expeditions as a railway engineer. A place of exile since the eighteenth century, Beryozovo was far away from the Bolshevik regime and in a relatively wealthy agricultural area, so it seemed a good location to sit out the Civil War (1917-21), which brought terror and economic ruin to Moscow. The family lived with Valentina's aunt in a rented room in the house of a large peasant family. Gleb found a job as a schoolteacher and meteorologist, Valentina worked as a teacher too, and Lev was brought up by her aunt, Lydia Konstantinovna, whom he called his 'grandmother'. She told him fairy tales and taught him the Lord's Prayer, which he remembered all his life.The ...

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Figes, Orlando/ Langton, James (Narrator)
Published by Tantor Media Inc (2012)
ISBN 10: 1452608008 ISBN 13: 9781452608006
New Quantity Available: 1
Revaluation Books
(Exeter, United Kingdom)

Book Description Tantor Media Inc, 2012. Audio CD. Book Condition: Brand New. unabridged edition. 5.50x6.50x1.00 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # 1452608008

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