Never Remember Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia
A haunting literary and visual journey deep into Russia’s past—and present.
The Gulag was a monstrous network of labor camps that held and killed millions of prisoners from the 1930s to the 1950s. More than half a century after the end of Stalinist terror, the geography of the Gulag has been barely sketched and the number of its victims remains unknown. Has the Gulag been forgotten?
Writer Masha Gessen and photographer Misha Friedman set out across Russia in search of the memory of the Gulag. They journey from Moscow to Sandarmokh, a forested site of mass executions during Stalin’s Great Terror; to the only Gulag camp turned into a museum, outside of the city of Perm in the Urals; and to Kolyma, where prisoners worked in deadly mines in the remote reaches of the Far East. They find that in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Stalin is remembered as a great leader, Soviet terror has not been forgotten—it was never remembered in the first place.
“Gessen’s delicate prose and deft skill as an interviewer combine with Friedman’s haunting photography to produce a partial record of the ruins of Soviet prison camps in Sandarmokh, Perm and Kolyma, and of the fraught memorialization efforts that followed perestroika and the Soviet Union’s collapse.”— Linda Kinstler, The Times Literary Supplement
"Under Putin — whose motto might as well be 'Make Russia Great Again' — Stalin’s rule is now remembered as a time of glory and order.... It is a grim reminder that once again, as in the 1930s, all over the world authoritarian strongmen are riding high." —Adam Hochschild, The New York Times Book Review
“Drawing on years of interviews, research, and travel, Gessen (The Future Is History) and photographer Friedman reflect on complex Russian attitudes to the legacy of the gulag in this vital collection of essays and photographs.... Friedman’s moody, panoramic black-and-white photos of the memorial sites convey a narrative that’s fragmented, blurry, and ultimately incomplete, perfectly underscoring Gessen’s text. The combination is a powerful meditation on contemporary Russia as seen through its relationship to the past.” —Publishers Weekly ★ starred review
"The author Masha Gessen and the photographer Misha Friedman have done what they could in Never Remember: Searching for Stalin’s Gulags in Putin’s Russia to combat the erasure of memory regarding the Gulag. They have accomplished this in two distinct but complementary ways—Gessen by interviewing descendants of those imprisoned as well as other private citizens who have in various ways done what they could to document and preserve the record of mass incarceration and state-murder, and Friedman by photographing the ghostly—and certainly haunting—remains of the camps." —Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast
“If one were needed, a sure sign of the increasingly totalitarian drift of Putin’s Russia is the steady rehabilitation of Stalin, long hidden away but now safe enough to be commemorated at a Moscow subway stop.... A book that belongs on the shelf alongside The Gulag Archipelago.” —Kirkus Reviews
Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and the bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin. Gessen's books include The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award in 2017, and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Gessen is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship, and Gessen's work appears regularly in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and Vanity Fair. Gessen is a visiting professor at Amherst College. A longtime resident of Moscow, Gessen now lives in New York City.
Misha Friedman is a photographer whose work is regularly featured in leading publications, including The New Yorker, Time, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and The New York Times. He is the author of Lyudmila and Natasha: Russian Lives and Photo 51. Friedman's photography awards include grants from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, and his photographs have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the world. A native of Moldova, Friedman lives with his family in New York City.
Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is an outspoken critic of Putin and Trump, and was just named one of the Five Most Important Intellectuals in America Today by The Washington Post. Her new book "Never Remember" with photos by Misha Friedman, commemorates those who died in the gulags and explains how Putin’s totalitarian state is whitewashing… more
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