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Journey into the Whirlwind

Eugenia Ginzburg

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full title ·  Journey into the Whirlwind

author · Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg

type of work · Autobiography

genre · Memoir, historical account, reportage

language · Russian, translated into English by Paul Stevenson and Max Hayward

time and place written · Written in Russia after the author’s release from prison in the mid-1950s

date of first publication · 1967

publisher · Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

narrator · Eugenia Ginzburg

point of view · The entire story is told in the first person by Ginzburg, who observed it all and recounts the events of her incarceration with an astonishing memory for detail and dialogue. At several points along the way, Ginzburg tells stories that she has herself been told by fellow inmates, but these are brief interruptions of her own personal history.

tone · Reflective, journalistic, philosophical, sentimental at times and objective at others

tense · Past tense

setting (time) · From December 1934 through mid-1940

setting (place) · Various parts of Russia: the author’s town of Kazan, the Russian city of Moscow, the prison at Yaroslavl, and the prison camps at Vladivostok, Magadan, and Elgen

protagonist · Eugenia Ginzburg

major conflict · Ginzburg’s arrest in 1937, her interrogation at Black Lake, and her trial, sentencing, imprisonment, and reassignment to the corrective labor camps of Eastern Russia

rising action, climax, and falling action

 · As Ginzburg’s book is a memoir, not fiction, it cannot be said to follow a deliberately artistic narrative structure involving rising action, climax, and falling action. Instead of these three discrete elements, Ginzburg’s text, true to her real experiences, has many moments of building suspense, many climaxes, and many consequences.
 · Ginzburg’s two years of solitary confinement do serve as a type of rising action, and the resulting climax is Ginzburg’s reassignment to a corrective labor facility and the monthlong train journey into Siberia, at the end of which she finds herself in Kolyma. The falling action, which occurs over the brief span of two pages, is her reassignment to the gentler job of medical attendant.

themes · The will to survive; the desire for companionship; the need for communication

motifs · Poetry; motion and stasis; food

symbols · Phone calls; watches

foreshadowing · As this work is autobiographical and historical, foreshadowing does not appear in the typical sense, though there are several significant coincidences. Julia Karepova, a fellow passenger in the Black Maria in an early section of the book, later becomes Ginzburg’s cellmate at Yaroslavl. Major Yelshin, who is so cruel to Ginzburg during her interrogation, becomes a prisoner at Kolyma while Ginzburg is working in the kitchen. Perhaps the most overt example of autobiographical foreshadowing is when Professor Elvov tells Ginzburg that he is being arrested and that he is sorry for causing her trouble because of their association. Although Ginzburg protests at the time and cannot understand why she should be worried, it is her association with Elvov that eventually dooms her.

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