Translation: Nicholas Bethell and David Burg, 1969
Edition: Penguin, 1969
Review number: 97
Like much of Solzhenitsyn's work, this play has distinct autobiographical features. The play is also known as "The Greenhorn and the Camp-Whore", which is a rather more punchy but less poetic way of translating the Russian title, Olen' i Salisovka.
The main character, and the one who clearly resembles Solzhenitsyn himself, is an army captain named Rodion Nemov. He has been sent to the camp straight from the Second World War front line for one of the political offences that were so easy to commit, and doesn't yet understand anything about how the camp system worked.
Because of his military rank, one of the first things that happens is that he is put in charge of the camp during a temporary absence of the commandant. By his naiveté and desire for justice he manages to alienate the various power structures within the camp. (These have mainly grown up through bribery, corruption, theft of materials.) He ends up accused of the very crime of corruption he has been trying to stamp out.
Assigned to the foundry, Nemov meets Lyuba Nyegnevistskaya, one of the women prisoners. She introduces him to the further degradations practiced upon the female prisoners - the one thing they can use to improve their lot is their sexuality.
The play is clearly important in Solzhenitsyn's development; it semms to be the first place that he writes about the prison camp system as another country within the Soviet Union, the theme that later turned into the multi-volume Gulag Archipelago. It's fairly early, and conforms to the trend that his early work is better and less obsessive than his later work.