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Located in the northernmost reaches of Russia, the islands of Solovki are among the most remote in the world. And yet from the Bronze Age through the twentieth century, the islands have attracted an astonishing cast of saints and scoundrels, soldiers and politicians.

The site of a beautiful medieval monastery-once home to one of the greatest libraries of eastern Europe-Solovki became in the twentieth century a notorious labor camp. Roy Robson recounts the history of Solovki from its first settlers through the present day, as the history of Russia plays out on this miniature stage. In the 1600s, the piety and prosperity of Solovki turned to religious rebellion, siege, and massacre. Peter the Great then used it as a prison. But Solovki's glory was renewed in the nineteenth century as it became a major pilgrimage site-only to descend again into horror when the islands became, in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the "mother of the Gulag" system.

From its first intrepid visitors through the blood-soaked twentieth century, Solovki-like Russia itself-has been a site of both glorious achievement and profound misery.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
More than half a millennium ago, a gaunt Russian monk named Savvatii stood on the shores of the White Sea, gazed toward the Arctic Circle, and, after deep contemplation, made the daring decision to head north. Along with a trusted acolyte, he paddled a makeshift canoe to a landmass of granite, earth, and wild vegetation, where he established a hermitage of gruelling labor and prayer. This tiny, ascetic redoubt evolved into one of Russia’s greatest monasteries, a fortified complex known as Solovki. The settlement became a chrysalis for Orthodox Christianity and, in subsequent centuries, a military outpost, a tsarist prison, and, most tragically, a Soviet labor camp of unparalleled cruelty. Robson’s chronicle of the archipelago is intimate enough to capture Solovki’s many sad ironies, and expansive enough to consider its place in Russian history. The result is an epic drama of spiritualism and savagery, set in one of the world’s most extreme frontier territories.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300178517
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2011
  • Pages: 322
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface ix
Note on Illustrations xv
1. Stones 1
2. Saints 6
3. Prosperity 26
4. Struggle 41
5. Guardian 54
6. Triumph 68
7. Defiance 81
8. Rebellion 94
9. Emperor 115
10. Prison 132
11. Reform 146
12. War 155
13. Pilgrims 170
14. Revolutions 186
15. Gulag 202
16. Life 226
17. Denouement 240
Epilogue: Memory 252
Notes 261
Essay on Sources 291
Index 297
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