Viktor Remizov

Vechnaya Merzlota Eternal Frost
Novel. Rubezh. Vladivostok 2020. 820 pages
Awards: 2021 Book of the Year WINNER
2021 Big Book 3. WINNER
2021 National Bestseller longlist

The novel is set against the background of the construction of the “Great Stalin Railway” on the Arctic Circle in Siberia, on which up to 80,000 prisoners of the GULAG were simultaneously working between 1947 and 1953. It is one of the most tragic projects of the Stalinist machinery of repression.

Like the Enisei, this novel is also a mighty, broad, calm river. No sudden unexpected turns, no rapids. But once you have stepped aboard Captain Belov's tugboat, you can no longer escape the power of its currents and undercurrents. Belov is one of the main character in this large-scale Siberian epic, which actually describes only about 5 years between 1949-53, but with these few years at the same time the whole human tragedy and the murderous madness of the Soviet century. We see people and nature little by little caught in the spider web of the GULAG labor camps and subjected to an insane project - the construction of the «Great Stalin Railway» personally ordered by Stalin.

In the novel the river Enisei, which is only navigable for a few months of the year for the replenishment of people and material and otherwise frozen under ice, not only symbolically represents the relentless living conditions of a country frozen in permafrost. Up to the branches of the tributaries, we experience the diverse beauty and richness of a barren landscape into which humans invade in order to subjugate them, enslaving and destroying not only nature but also those of their own kind. A research down to the smallest detail gives this novel almost documentary authenticity. We get to know all the shades of human dignity and greatness and low motives, even in the minor characters. The progressively tragic interweaving of the individual main characters unfolds an underlying tension and emotionally lasting impact thanks to the stylistically withdrawn narrative style.

It is Remizov's trademark not to exaggerate or disguise reality in literary terms, but to present it as bare as possible. In his novels, the evil is no more diabolical than it is, the good is not canonized. He shows us every single act as an emotional decision by people who at least try to stay true to themselves or to some extent upright in the flow of life. Or just not to go under. Because their flow of life is the maelstrom of Stalinist repression. With Stalin's death, the project of the railway is crushed and many prisoners are released in a general amnesty. What remains is a grimly disfigured landscape of building ruins and half-disbanded penal camps. And the fates of humans cruelly and senselessly destroyed.