Eugenia Ginzberg recounts the years she spent in prison and labor camps in Stalin's Russia. In 1934, Eugenia Ginzberg comes under intense government suspicion for failing to reveal the Communist sympathies of her friend Elvov. She is charged with "insufficient vigilance" and released, but is caught in a web of government scrutiny that results in cruel interrogations. Two years later, Ginzberg sees Stalin in the flesh while on her way to plead her case in Moscow. In the city her Communist loyalty is revealed and she is taken into custody by Captain Vevers. She is imprisoned in horrible conditions and befriends another prisoner named Lyama who helps her communicate with other prisoners. During one of her never-ending string of interrogations, former coworkers at a Communist paper betray her to her captors. Eugenia is taken to an even filthier prison. Here, however, the prisoners can communicate better, using a system that involves singing familiar melodies. She is soon moved to a third prison in Moscow and witnesses torture of fellow prisoners. In Moscow she is sentenced to ten years imprisonment by the military court. She serves two years in a normal prison with a cellmate named Julia before being moved to a labor camp.
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Eugenia spends a month trapped in a horrifically crowded railcar traveling to the labor camp. She and her fellow prisoners stay a month in a camp where men stay also, separated by barbed wire. Then she travels by ship to an isolated labor camp in northern Siberia. Life on the ship is deplorable and Ginzberg quickly succumbs to an illness that threatens her life. On land she lives in relative luxury in a doctor's care before convalescing and being put to work. Eugenia is able to bribe one of her captors and lands a cushy job in a cozy guesthouse and later a kitchen. This privilege doesn't last long and she is sent to make lumber is bitterly cold weather. She constantly fears for her life but is saved when a medic recognizes her. He knows her son and is able to get her a position in a children's home. She is finally released in 1940.
Best part of story, including ending:
I love that the story exists. There have been millions of prisoners in situations like this who died with their stories.
Best scene in story:
As dark as it is, her first experiences felling trees in Siberia are captivating. Her death seems certain.
Opinion about the main character:
Ginzberg is a rock. You can't not admire her.