Varlam Shalamov's Moscow

Varlam Shalamov's Moscow

Varlam Shalamov (1907–1982) is best known as the author of Kolyma Tales, a collection of five series of short stories about life in the Kolyma camps, and "Essays on the Criminal World." Shalamov’s texts acquaint the reader with his biography. They vividly convey the atmosphere in which this great writer lived and where he found inspiration.

Portrait of 1956. Photo:

“Varlam Shalamov’s Moscow” presents three stages of Shalamov’s biography. Moscow was the city where Shalamov considered himself a writer and a poet and where he struggled to gain recognition, which his works received only after his death. Shalamov knew and loved Moscow as a city of literature. He was actively involved in the literary and cultural life of the Soviet capital during its cultural growth in the 1920s. Shalamov began to publish his first stories in the 1930s and later, after returning from the camps, he became an active participant in the post-Stalinist cultural process. Shalamov’s experience in Kolyma was an essential part of his life. His efforts to understand and weave this period into his literary work happened in Moscow. Most parts of the Kolyma Tales were written in Moscow. His first readers and critics, who appreciated Shalamov’s talent long before he received official recognition and publications, also lived there. 

Nowadays one can hardly trace the memory of Shalamov in Moscow. A memorial plaque on the house on Chistyi Lane, where he lived in the 1930s between his two arrests, is the only site connected to the writer in Moscow’s literary topography. The map of “Varlam Shalamov’s Moscow” is not exhaustive. It aims to commemorate his creativity at sites connected to his everyday life, tracing places where he lived, wrote, and met his friends and foes. 

Preserving historical and cultural memories was Shalamov’s main objective. This task continues to be relevant today with respect to the biography and heritage of Shalamov.

The only lifetime portrait of Shalamov by Boris Birger. Photo:

The only lifetime portrait of Shalamov by Boris Birger.

Sergey Solovyov