Varlam Shalamov (1907–1982) was born in Vologda in western Russia. In 1929, he was arrested at an underground printshop and sentenced to three years’ hard labor in the Ural Mountains, where he met his first wife, Galina Gudz. After their release, Shalamov resumed work as a journalist and writer, publishing his first short story, “The Three Deaths of Doctor Austino,” in 1936. The following year, he was arrested again for counterrevolutionary activities and shipped to the Far Northeast of the Kolyma basin. Over the next fifteen years, he was moved from labor camp to labor camp; imprisoned many times for anti-Soviet propaganda; forced to mine gold and coal; quarantined for typhus; and, finally, assigned to work as a paramedic. Upon his release in 1951, he made his way back to Moscow where he divorced his wife and began writing what would become the Kolyma Stories.
Hunger made our envy as dull and feeble as all our other feelings. We had no strength left for feelings, to search for easier work, to walk, to ask, to beg. We envied only those we knew, with whom we had come into this world, if they had managed to get work in the office, the hospital, or the stables, where there were no long hours of heavy physical work, which was glorified on the arches over all the gates as a matter for valor and heroism. In a word, we envied only Shestakov.