My Father's Letters | Granta

  • Published: 04/03/2021
  • ISBN: 9781783785285
  • Granta Books
  • 304 pages

My Father’s Letters


Translated by Georgia Thomson

‘They will live as human beings and die as human beings; and in this alone lies man’s eternal and bitter victory over all the grandiose and inhuman forces that ever have been or will be.’
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

Between the 1930s and 1950s, millions of people were sent to the Gulag in the Soviet Union. My Father’s Letters tells the stories of 16 men – mostly members of the intelligentsia, and loyal Soviet subjects – who were imprisoned in the Gulag camps, through the letters they sent back to their wives and children. Here are letters illustrated by fathers keen to educate their children in science and natural history; the tragic missives of a former military man convinced that the terrible mistake of his arrest will be rectified; the ‘letter’ stitched on a bedsheet with a fishbone and smuggled out of a maximum security camp. My Father’s Letters is an immediate source of life in prison during Stalin’s Great Terror. Almost none of the men writing these letters survived.

All over the world the historical record is being distorted and weaponised. This makes the balanced, conscientiously researched work of such an organization as Memorial more valuable than ever. My Father's Letters is well presented and deeply moving. The translation is fluent and all the necessary background information is clearly provided. Some passages conjure up the life of an individual family - and of an entire culture - with heart-breaking vividness

Robert Chandler

Astoundingly, these stories are not miserable. Yes, the men mention their inadequate shelter, clothing and food, but the overwhelming impact is the expression of their love for their families... My Father's Letters is beautifully produced

Vin Arthey, Scotsman

What is heart-breaking and pitiful about these salvaged letters home is their very ordinariness - the tender love expressed for wives and children, the enquiries about their education and welfare, the little bits of advice about what to study, how to behave, well-meant homilies, as if everyone is trying to carry on participating in daily lives, giving voice to hope, when there was no hope

Roger Lewis, Telegraph

The Author

MEMORIAL International is a Russian historical and civil rights society focused on recording and publicising the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past, and monitoring human rights in Russia and other post-Soviet states. Memorial is a recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

More about the author →

From the Same Author


MEMORIAL, translated by Georgia Thomson

Winner of the Jan Michalski Prize 2021

An Ostarbeiter was anEastern Worker’, rounded up by Nazi Germany from the captured territories in Central and Eastern Europe. By the end of the war, it is estimated that approximately 3 million to 5.5. million Ostarbeiter were forced to work in guarded work camps, many of them younger than 16 years old – at which age they would be conscripted for military service. Ostarbeiter worked 12 hours a day on starvation on rations; as ethnic Slavs, they were treated with extraordinary brutality by Nazi guards who considered them ‘sub-human’ by the standards of the Aryan master race. They were distinguished by the label ‘OST’ sewn onto their uniforms.

OST is based on over two hundred personal accounts, hundreds of hours of interviews, and over 350,000 letters. This important publication will ensure that the voices of the brutalised and displaced Ostarbeiter will not be forgotten.