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Book review: A Gulag with a little too many bright days

the Opening is magnificent: it is night and the glistening cold in the tatarbyn, the young woman Zulejcha paws over the creaking floorboards in order not to arouse her considerably older husband, sneaks past his tyrannical mother in law's door, up in the attic. From matförrådet she takes care, so it barely visible that something is gone, a string of frozen äpplekonfekt as she hides under the dress, around the waist. Throughout the day, she works in the woods with her husband, and then with the household chores before her in the protection of the next nattmörker can take out to the cemetery. Where she gives the spirits the now melted confection to watch over her four young daughters, all dead shortly after birth.

in his first novel, ”Zulejcha open your eyes” invites Guzel Jachina into an alien world: a muslim village in Soviet union in the winter of 1930, a young woman squeezed between a harsh husband and a cruel mother-in-law. Zulejcha is small in stature like a child, she is mocked for his children, and forced to work as fits a classified as typical weight; still, she finds herself and thank the almighty for the good husband she's got.

Jachina describe closely and richly detailed, as to describe and preserve a reality that will soon be forever lost. The day after Zulejchas successful godisstöld will the red to the village, the husband shot to death, mother-in-law left in the village, the rest of the residents gathered together and sent on a halvårslång zigzagging penal transportation to Siberia. They are the tatars and the kulaks, peasants who do not want to check in kolchossystemet, they are now going to avkulakiseras, retrained to the soviets, build collective farms in Siberia.

based on the Jachinas grandmother's memories of the soviet lägersystemet the Gulag. Highly recognizable from other överlevares testimony: the cold, the hunger, high mortality, the murderous heavy work with primitive tools, angiveriet, bödlarnas brutality and their fear that they themselves will be overthrown by the new executioners. Also the attempts to in spite of everything to preserve their humanity, to find the courage to live another day. But Jachinas novel also differs from the vast Gulag-skildrarna, Alexander Solsjenitsyn, or Varlam Shalamov, whose ”Through the snow” from the 1950s was published in a new translation last year at the Ersatz, the same publishers who now also give out Jachina. They descend into hell, she looks into it and sees this to be a lively and entertaining story.

Read more: Göran Greider about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag.

Jachina is after the strong first chapter too to get all of their head - and other minor characters on the train to the east and shifting quickly point of view between them: first, the communist commander who works for the secret service, and believe that the mission is over as soon as he arrived with his contingent of displaced. Among them are the confused doctor, who recover from their delusions in the siberian cold, the couple from Leningrad who are deported because they are klassfiender, the artist, the one the carpenter, and, of course, Zulejcha and the son she gives birth in the camp and that she, against all the odds manages to stay alive.

, Jachina see what they are doing and hear what they say, but crowding is rarely under the skin of them. The budding love between Zulejcha and the commandant are described, for example, as ”she of his mere gaze had turned to honey”; the artist's frustration about having to paint political posters are drowned in the moonshine, but how the suffering erodes the soul, we must never hold on. Not how the system grinds people into the dirt, victims as well as perpetrators.

instead, I get the paradoxical impression that everything could have been worse, that life still had many bright days. It was not, perhaps, to cultivate millet on the tundra, but melons, Zulejcha proves to be a skillful hunter and thrive in the forest, the commandant has a heart that is pounding over the hard surface, people marry, babies are born, the school is built.

such camps, certainly can Guzel Jachinas grandmother have had the good fortune to end up in such a place, or also have her memories sorted away the unbearable days. And yes, I read this exciting novel, quickly and easily from cover to cover, but afterwards retains none of the characters his grip on me, no real concern, except the young woman who loomed in the beginning and bribed the spirits with the confection to her dead would get quiet.

Read more of Ingrid Elam, reviews of current books, for example, Robert Menasses EU-satire ”the Capital”.

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