“In 1949 some friends and I came upon a noteworthy news
item in Nature, 2l magazine of the Academy of Sciences. It re-
ported in tiny type that in the course of excavations on the
Kolyma River a subterranean ice lens had been discovered which
was actually a frozen stream — and in it were found frozen speci-
mens of prehistoric fauna some tens of thousands of years old.
Whether fish or salamander, these were preserved in so fresh a
state, the scientific correspondent reported, that those present
immediately broke open the ice encasing the specimens and de-
voured them with relish on the spot.
The magazine no doubt astonished its small audience with the
news of how successfully the flesh of fish could be kept fresh in
a frozen state. But few, indeed, among its readers were able to
decipher the genuine and heroic meaning of this incautious report.
As for us, however — we understood instantly. We could picture
the entire scene right down to the smallest details: how those
present broke up the ice in frenzied haste; how, flouting the
higher claims of ichthyology and elbowing each other to be first,
they tore off chunks of the prehistoric flesh and hauled them over
to the bonfire to thaw them out and bolt them down.
We understood because we ourselves were the same kind of
people as those present at that event. We, too, were from that
powerful tribe of zeks, unique on the face of the earth, the only
people who could devour prehistoric salamander with relish.
And the Kolyma was the greatest and most famous island, the
pole of ferocity of that amazing country of Gulag which, though
scattered in an Archipelago geographically, was, in the psycho-
logical sense, fused into a continent — an almost invisible, almost
imperceptible country inhabited by the zek people.
And this Archipelago crisscrossed and patterned that other
country within which it was located, like a gigantic patchwork,
cutting into its cities, hovering over its streets. Yet there were
many who did not even guess at its presence and many, many
others who had heard something vague. And only those who had
been there knew the whole truth.
But, as though stricken dumb on the islands of the Archipelago,
they kept their silence.
By an unexpected turn of our history, a bit of the truth, an
insignificant part of the whole, was allowed out in the open. But
those same hands which once screwed tight our handcuffs now
hold out their palms in reconciliation: “No, don’t! Don’t dig up
the past! Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye.”
But the proverb goes on to say: “Forget the past and you’ll
lose both eyes.”
Decades go by, and the scars and sores of the past are healing
over for good. In the course of this period some of the islands
of the Archipelago have shuddered and dissolved and the polar
sea of oblivion rolls over them. And someday in the future, this
Archipelago, its air, and the bones of its inhabitants, frozen in
a lens of ice, will be discovered by our descendants like some im-
I would not be so bold as to try to write the history of the
Archipelago. I have never had the chance to read the documents.
And, in fact, will anyone ever have the chance to read them?
Those who do not wish to recall have already had enough time —
and will have more — to destroy all the documents, down to the
very last one.
I have absorbed into myself my own eleven years there not as
something shameful nor as a nightmare to be cursed: I have come
almost to love that monstrous world, and now, by a happy turn
of events, I have also been entrusted with many recent reports
and letters. So perhaps I shall be able to give some account of
the bones and flesh of that salamander — which, incidentally, is
still alive. ”
A Giant Japanese Salamander-wiki media