I’m reading Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag, by Orlando Figes. It’s a recounting of a love story between two people, Lev and Svetlana Mishchenko, separated for many years by Lev’s incarceration first as a Soviet POW in Nazi concentration camps and then in Pechora work camp in the Arctic Gulag. They managed a lively and moving correspondence, which forms the centerpiece of this book, and I’m rationing the pages, partly to make the book last and partly because the details of Lev’s life in Pechora are so harrowing. The title comes from a poem by Anna Akhmatova, “In Dream”, written in 1946, and translated here by D.M. Thomas:
Black and enduring separation
I share equally with you.
Why weep? Give me your hand,
Promise me you will come again.
You and I are like high mountains
And we cannot move closer.
Just send me word
At midnight sometime through the stars.