Sketches of the Criminal World: Further Kolyma Stories

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New York Review of Books
Publish Date
5.0 X 1.2 X 8.0 inches | 1.3 pounds
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About the Author

Varlam Shalamov (1907-1982) was a Russian writer, journalist, poet, and survivor of the Gulag. NYRB Classics publishes his Kolyma Stories, which, together with Sketches of the Criminal World, comprise the first complete English translation of all of Shalamov's Kolyma writings.

Donald Rayfield is an emeritus professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary University of London. He translated Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls for NYRB Classics.

Alissa Valles is the author of the poetry books Orphan Fire (2008) and Anastylosis (2014), the editor and cotranslator of Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems and Collected Prose, and the translator of Ryszard Krynicki's Our Life Grows for NYRB Poets.


"The most powerful stories in this volume wed Shalamov's unblinking awareness of human frailty and historic catastrophe to his keen appreciation for nature . . . [A]t its best, Shalamov's prose is poetry of the highest order." --Boris Dralyuk, The Times Literary Supplement

"As in his earlier volume [Kolyma Stories], Shalamov writes matter-of-factly, unblinkingly, about the endless horrors of the gulag, which are scarcely comprehensible. Essential chronicles of the worst face of the totalitarian state." --Kirkus

"A Virgil of this icy underworld, Shalamov is at his most compelling when bearing witness. He spares no detail, describing the diagnosis of dysentery, corpses exhumed for their clothing and the hacked-off hands of fugitives used for fingerprint identification. . . . We are fortunate that he--who died deaf, nearly blind and institutionalised--not only survived his sentence but had the force to withstand the exorcism of the experience." --Mia Levitin, The Spectator

"'Every story of mine is a slap in the face of Stalinism, ' Shalamov wrote in 1971. . . . Shalamov's stories are slaps in all our faces--and, like a slap, they can enliven as well as hurt. . . . Shalamov is not only a unique witness, but also a fine poet and one of the greatest of Russian writers of short stories. He is as important a figure as Primo Levi." --Robert Chandler, Financial Times

"Shalamov is an unparalleled reporter on life in the Gulag and anatomist of the camp condition, which like an ulcer bled its malignance through the whole body of Soviet society. Not only a reporter but a great practitioner too of a ruthlessly stripped-down art." --J. M. Coetzee

"Shalamov's experience in the camps was longer and more bitter than my own. . . . I respectfully confess that to him and not me it was given to touch those depths of bestiality and despair toward which life in the camps dragged us all." --Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn