This book begins tamely – Lev and Sveta, two Russian teenagers quietly falling in love. It progresses into one of the most dramatic true histories of the gulag era.
Figes' masterly combination of family history, interviews and love letters, written while Lev served a ten year sentence in a Soviet gulag, has an epic, even filmic, quality. This is historical research at its most astounding. When Sveta hears of Lev's sentence, she knows the letters are all they have: "If it can't be otherwise, this is the better than nothing... We'll get through this, Lev."