Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg
The author and narrator. Ginzburg is a loyal Communist Party member,
historian, writer, mother, and wife with a passion for poetry and a writer’s
gift for observation and memorization. Her clearheaded perception of the
atrocities of prison life is fuel for her strong moral imperative to survive the
injustices she is forced to suffer.
in-depth analysis of Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg.
Pavel Vasilyevich Aksyonov
Ginzburg’s husband and a leading member of the Tartar Province
Committee. Aksyonov stands by his wife throughout the time leading to her
arrest. Later, he, too, is arrested, as Ginzburg learns in
Ginzburg’s elder son and one of the couple’s two children. Alyosha is
nine years old in 1935, when the story begins. Ginzburg never sees him again
after being taken to jail.
Ginzburg’s younger son. When the book begins in 1935, Vaska is
A friend and colleague of Ginzburg and a member of the party’s
municipal committee. Before the start of Ginzburg’s memoir, Elvov writes a
chapter of a book on the history of the Bolsheviks that Stalin later denounces
as containing “Trotskyist ideas.” After Kirov’s death, Elvov is arrested on
suspicion of being a Trotskyist. Ginzburg’s association with Elvov results in
her arrest and trial.
The office typist at Red Tartary
advises Ginzburg to admit her guilt, but Ginzburg does not
Ginzburg’s first interrogator. Redheaded Comrade Beylin meets
Ginzburg for the first time at Livadia, the regional committee’s country
Another of Ginzburg’s interrogators. Malyuta works alongside Beylin,
playing “bad cop” to Beylin’s “good cop.”
Avdotya Vasilyevna Aksyonova
Ginzburg’s mother-in-law. Aksyonova is a simple peasant woman, but
she seems to understand better than Ginzburg the dangers lying in wait. Ginzburg
refers to her as “Grandmother.”
The editor of the History of the All-Union Communist
, to which Elvov contributed his ill-fated article on the
Bolsheviks. Yaroslavsky somehow escapes persecution himself and becomes one of
Ginzburg’s companion on the train back to Moscow after her summons by
Beylin. Makarova prevents Ginzburg from committing suicide by restraining
Ginzburg when she is about to jump off the train.
A former student of Ginzburg’s. Biktashev serves as secretary of the
Kazan committee, which expels his onetime teacher from the
The NKVD official who calls Ginzburg in after her expulsion from the
party and pronounces her under arrest. Vevers has a chilling grimace, which, as
Ginzburg later learns, all interrogators are forced to practice in the
Ginzburg’s cellmate in the cellars at Black Lake. Lyama, whose real
name is Lydia, had worked for the Chinese–Far Eastern Railway, but, upon her
return, she was arrested as a spy, like so many other CFER
Ginzburg’s interrogator in the cellars at Black Lake. Livanov cheers
Ginzburg briefly with his seemingly placid demeanor, his Kazan accent, and his
old-fashioned speech patterns, but Ginzburg soon realizes how devoted Livanov is
to his work.
The State Security Lieutenant. Like many other officials at Black
Lake, Tsarevsky is maniacal and sadistic.
The deceptively kind-looking interrogator who asks Ginzburg to write
out her confession. Later, Yelshin passes through Kolyma as a prisoner while
Ginzburg is working in the kitchen.
A fellow prisoner at Black Lake. Sagidullin is a Leninist who was
arrested in 1933 and occupies the cell next to Ginzburg’s, often tapping on
their shared wall.
The third prisoner in Ginzburg’s jail cell, along with Lyama. Ira is
a postgraduate student whom Ginzburg saw once or twice at the
Another interrogator at Black Lake.
A former writer on Ginzburg’s staff at Red Tartary
is brought in as a witness against Ginzburg while
she is being held at Black Lake.
Another staff member of Red Tartary
. Kozlova is also
brought in as a witness against Ginzburg and calmly signs her
A fellow prisoner whom Ginzburg speaks to on the Black Maria. Yefrem
and Ginzburg first knew each other when he was a postgraduate student at the
A fellow inmate at the Krasin Street prison. Big Anna is in jail for
telling political jokes.
Another inmate at the Krasin Street prison. Lydia is a seasoned
prisoner, having been incarcerated many times.
A party activist and another inmate at Krasin Street.
Yet another inmate at Krasin Street. Nina is an honest working girl
who is in jail for failing to report overhearing a joke about
Another Krasin Street inmate, who was arrested along with her
The wife of the head of the Council of the People’s Commissars of the
Tartar Republic. Zina, as she is known, seems bewildered by her first experience
in prison and is convinced she is going to be released. Instead, the
interrogators beat her.
A biologist and orthodox party member who shares the Black Maria with
Ginzburg. In a twist of fate, Julia later becomes Ginzburg’s cellmate at
Another passenger in the Black Maria. Rimma caves and signs whatever
the interrogators put before her.
Ginzburg’s roommate in the Pugachev Tower and a fellow historian.
Anna has already spent time in the Lubyanka prison, and her outlook on her
future is very grim.
A cheerful cellmate in the Pugachev Tower.
Ginzburg’s name for the sadistic senior warder in Yaroslavl
A prison guard at Yaroslavl. Yaroslavsky brings Ginzburg and Julia
their requested books and has a kindly, youthful appearance.
The new prison governor of Yaroslavl, whose real name Ginzburg never
learns. Instead, she gives him the nickname “Vulturidze” after a vulturelike
character in a film who kills the “dovelike”
A strong, articulate woman who is elected the
, or spokesperson, of Car 7.
One of the passengers in Car 7. Tanya suffers from pellagra, and the
other women fear she will die before they reach Kolyma. Tanya resolves to make
it to the destination alive, and she succeeds.
Another inmate of Car 7. Tamara demands increased water rations from
the guards but in vain. She is later racked by guilt when two other
inmates are punished as a result of her demands.
The officer in charge of the women in Car 7.
One of the Car 7 inmates from Suzdal prison, another solitary
confinement facility for women. Lena recognizes Ginzburg as an old acquaintance
A prison trusty in the transit camp. Vasek alerts Ginzburg when she
is about to be taken to Kolyma.
Dr. Angelina Klimenko
Ginzburg’s doctor in the Magadan camp infirmary. Dr. Klimenko is
married to an NKVD investigator and has a very kindly disposition. She takes it
upon herself to nurse Ginzburg back to health after a near-fatal bout with
The team leader at Kolyma who is responsible for assigning the
prisoners to work. Verka takes Ginzburg’s colorful jacket and, in return,
assigns her to do comfortable, easy work in the guesthouse. Later, in response
to a monetary bribe, she assigns Ginzburg to the kitchen in the male
One of the men awaiting deportation from Kolyma in the guesthouse
where Ginzburg works. Rudolf takes a liking to Ginzburg and, along with his
friends, gives her money to bribe the prison guard into giving her light
A deaf Volga German man who works alongside Ginzburg in the prison
kitchen. Helmut grows fond and protective of Ginzburg after she makes an
effort to communicate with him by writing things
A doctor who performs medical inspections at Elgen. Dr. Petukhov
recognizes Ginzburg as the relative of one of his good friends and arranges for
her to become a medical attendant in the children’s home, despite her lack of
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!