Review: Belomor: Criminality and Creativity in Stalin’s Gulag

Belomor: Criminality and Creativity in Stalin’s Gulag by Julie S. Draskoczy was reviewed in the Slavonic and East European Review (vol. 94, no. 1, January 2016):

Performance runs as a thread throughout this thoroughly researched, stimulating and also in part baffling study of the relation between creativity and criminality in this innovative study of Belomor, the early 1930s White Sea-Baltic Canal construction project. While previous scholarship has focused on the raw human cost of the canal’s construction, Julie Draskoczy has followed a different line of inquiry, attempting to understand what it was other than brutal coercion that motivated the scores of thousands of prisoners who laboured under debilitating physical conditions to complete the canal’s construction in record time, an achievement hailed in contemporary Soviet propaganda as the finest success of the USSR’s first Five Year Plan. . . .Without letting her readers lose sight of the brutality of the Belomor camp regime, Draskoczy focuses on the prisoners’ experience through a lens provided by memoirs, contemporary literary and journalistic narratives, and most importantly, an extraordinary trove of prisoners’ written testimonies and the Belomor camp newspaper preserved in Russian archives, supplemented by a small number of interviews she was able to conduct with former prisoners of the Belomor camp.
— Madeline G. Levine, University of North Carolina