In the early 1930s the Soviet Union built, with convict labour, a canal between the White Sea and the Baltic. Given the convenient proximity of the Solovetsky Islands Gulag settlement, workers were in plentiful supply, and their work was performed for free.
The project took 20 months: 12,000 prisoners lost their lives. The scheme became known simply as the White Sea Canal: “Belomorkanal”. To mark its completion, the state tobacco company launched a new brand of cigarette: it took the project’s name.
And it gives its name in turn to “Belomor” – a novel, a book of narratives and remembrances released this year by Text Publishing.
“Belomor” is the last in a sequence of three novelistic tales set against the backdrop of the desert Inland and the North. It looks back, also, to the era of dictatorships in Europe. It was years in the making: its passage now from project to publication is swiftly done: as swiftly as a breath exhaled, or a smoke plume dissolving in the air.
A striking photographic image by the artist Alexander Rodchenko shows the first lock of the White Sea Canal during the last stages of its construction in deep winter. It is the frontespiece of “Belomor.” — It repays prolonged attention. I wish you bon appétit in your reading of this work.