Georgi Vladimov: Верный Руслан (Faithful Ruslan)


The latest addition to my website is Georgi Vladimov‘s Верный Руслан (Faithful Ruslan). This is a classic of Soviet-era gulag literature though, unlike other gulag novels, such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, it is set in 1956-1957, after Khrushchev released most of those imprisoned under Stalin. Indeed, this novel opens the day after the prisoners in the specific camp described in this book have been released. Faithful Ruslan is a Caucasian sheep dog, a dog specially trained for prison and frontier work, and he is a loyal and obedient dog. The novel is told from his perspective (presumably in an attempt (unsuccessful) to evade censorship.) It rather looks as if his master will shoot him but, in the end, he is sent away but is at a loss to know what to do, as is the case with the other dogs released. Some of them go to the station to await prisoner trains that will never arrive. Others scrounge or steal or fawn to the local townspeople in order to get fed. Ruslan will not sell his soul and awaits the return of his master, though eventually takes up hunting to feed himself. However, his master does not want him and, at his master’s urging, he moves in with a former prisoner known only as The Shabby Man. All the while, we follow Ruslan’s life as a prison guard dog, as he reminisces about it from his point of view though, of course, we see the hard life of the prisoners. But Ruslan has been trained for one thing only – to guard prisoners – and he cannot adapt. The former prisoners and former guards also find it hard to adapt. Ruslan finds it impossible, and this has devastating consequences for him. Vladimov gives us a grim picture of life in a gulag and life after the gulag and it is not surprising that this has now become a classic.

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