Grey is the Colour of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya

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Grey is the Colour of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Dissident writer Irina's second autobiography goes back to and concentrates on her time at Barashevo prison camp. A surprisingly uplifting narrative of spirit over adversity by a modest, gracious lady.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: August 2016
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1473637221

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In April 1983 Irina Ratushinskaya was convicted of 'agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or wrecking the Soviet Regime'. She had dared to defend human rights and to ask questions of the Soviet system via her writing in general and poetry in particular. The penalty that came with the conviction was 7 years in a labour camp followed by 5 years in internal exile. In In the Beginning, her first autobiography, Irina touches on that time of her life. Now, Grey is the Colour of Hope goes back to look at it in detail.

The book's title comes from the colour of the dress that Irina and her fellow prisoners in the political 'Small Zone' of Barashevo labour camp put together from hoarded scraps. The hoped for event for which it was made was her husband's visit. In theory each prisoner was allowed one long family visit and two short visits every 3 years. In practice these visits could be arbitrarily cancelled on any excuse by the camp staff, sometimes waiting till the family had already made the arduous journey to the prison before telling them.

Even during episodes like this Irina refuses to criticise any individual to any great degree. For instance Podust, the prison guard, may seem sadistic to us but to the prisoners she's someone to get the better of. Irina and her fellow hut-mates are incredibly resourceful, savouring the little daily victories like not having to wear compulsory ID tags. Then, when a huge victory is won (e.g. the devious way they play the camp governorship at their own game regarding a false accusation and a housekeeping vacancy) we're cheering with them.

Another great act of defiance is the manner in which they send information to the outside world. The authorities are determined that the camp should become a crevasse into which the political prisoners vanish at least for the length of their sentences, if not longer. Yet these women have fantastically absorbent memories and can create opportunities out of moments that would probably occupy us with other things… like the pain being inflicted at the time for instance.

Irina is a practising Christian, a faith that has sustained her alongside her writing (even when she can only write on roll-up papers). Yet this isn't a religious testimonial. Religion hardly gets mentioned at all, bringing to the fore a story of human spirit, determination and humour conquering extreme adversity. Unfortunately, although Irina was released, some of her fellow prisoners are still serving the exile portion of their sentences. The bigger sadness is that recent clamp-downs under the new Russian Federation seem to suggest that such prisoners of conscience will go on being taken for the foreseeable future.

(A huge thank you to Sceptre for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: To get the full story leading up to these moments in Irina's life, we suggest you go back to the beginning. If you'd like to read a slightly fictionalised account of the life of a dissident, written by a dissident, we recommend The Year of Miracle and Grief by Leonid Borodin.

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