White Nights

Penelope Fitzgerald

Irina Ratushinskaya was 28 when she was arrested on her way to work on an apple farm and sent to the Small Zone section of a Mordavian labour camp. She was imprisoned on account of her poetry (or rather, the ‘creation and dissemination of anti-Soviet materials in poetic form’), and was released on account of it. No, I’m not afraid and Pencil Letter were translated and circulated in the West, and when the concern and pressure on her behalf reached a certain point she was allowed to emigrate with her husband to England. This was in December 1986. ‘I have been free for two years now,’ she writes, ‘and people keep asking me whether I am happy.’ But to be happy she would need to forget those left behind in the supposedly emptying camps, those who died, and, worse still, the hatred of those who gave in and collaborated for those who did not.

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