Grey Is the Color of Hope, by Irina Ratushinskaya (Alfred A. Knopf, 355 pp.; $18.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Ellen Santilli Vaughn, editorial director, Prison Fellowship Ministries.
The story begins with its ending: Delivered in a black Russian car to her Kiev apartment after four years in a Soviet prison camp, dissident Irina Ratushinskaya offers her KGB guard a cup of coffee. The gesture expresses both hospitality and defiance: the essence of Ratushinskaya’s victory over her captors. After it all, they cannot make her hate.
Grey Is the Color of Hope is Ratushinskaya’s account of her imprisonment after being sentenced in 1983 to seven years of hard labor and five years of internal exile. Her crime? Writing “anti-Soviet poems.”
Ratushinskaya served the bulk of her time in the “Small Zone,” a section for political prisoners in the Barashevo labor camp in Mordovia. Her fellow prisoners, or “zeks,” were an assortment of human-rights activists, Christians, and others the KGB deemed a threat to Soviet civil order.
Ratushinskaya writes without sentimentality or sensationalism, but with a clear-eyed realism born of suffering. She recounts her hunger strikes to protest camp injustices and the fetid fish floating in greasy, meager broth that otherwise made up her meals; she describes the lies that clotted the KGB’s every communication, and the torture of cold and disease in the punishment block—where one day a nonpolitical prisoner chewed through her wrists and bled to death in the cell next to Ratushinskaya’s.
The book balances such horrors with tender images of the sisterhood of shared suffering. While on hunger strike, Ratushinskaya and fellow dissident Tatyana Mikhailovna read Ecclesiastes, comforting one another that “two are better ...1
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