Varlam Shalamov

Condensed Milk
  • Condensed Milk

  • Narrated in the first person, this short story is one episode in the life of a Russian labour-camp inmate. Written by Varlam Shalamov after his own experiences at a gulag, it describes the apathy of prisoners as they steadily approach death, the assuredness of betrayal and duplicity, and the constant craving for material satisfaction to lessen the empty, scorched feeling inside. When an old acquaintance lays out an escape plan, that satisfaction is offered in the form of condensed milk: a sweet, delicious extravagance - a small element of joy in the midst of impending death.

Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov, born in Vologda, Russia in 1907, was a Russian poet journalist and prose writer. He was arrested twice and spent fourteen years at Kolyma, a forced-labour camp in north eastern Siberia. When released in 1954, he started his most famous work, Kolyma Tales, a twenty-year project of short stories depicting life in a labour camp. Initially censored in Russia, his writing was translated and published abroad. He also wrote poetry for Soviet Magazines, much of which has been set to music. Shalamov died in 1982.

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