Most nonfiction books are written from a sense of intellectual challenge; this one is written as much from a sense of duty. Over more than 35 years, since he first met Nikolai Bukharin's widow, Anna Larina, Cohen has developed a deep relationship with the widows and offspring of many of the gulag's celebrated and uncelebrated victims. By interviewing them, reading their memoirs, and digging through secret police archives, he collected material for a book he first planned to write in 1983. It tells the story of how survivors experienced liberation, what happened when they reentered society, and how, with varying degrees of success, they came to terms with what they had suffered. Misery was common, but, as Cohen stresses, its meaning and effects varied widely from individual to individual. This is not the thick, detailed book he originally intended to write, and it is all the better for that. It is also all the better for the graceful, pellucid writing.
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