The Will to Survive

In Journey into the Whirlwind, the will to survive perseveres despite all odds, even when those odds reduce the chance of survival nearly to zero. Many characters who seem close to death are able to battle, by sheer will, either to regain their strength or to hang on to life longer than anyone might have reasonably thought possible. Tanya, for example, seems about to expire at any moment during the train journey eastward, but she tells Ginzburg she’ll make it to the end of the journey—and she does. By actually giving voice to her determination, Tanya is able to make it a reality. Ginzburg, too, comes close to death several times, and each time there is an implicit echo of an early declaration: “I intended to survive. Just to spite them.” Having been spared the death sentence, Ginzburg makes it her goal simply to stay alive, and this fortitude drives her story forward.

The Desire for Companionship

Though at first it might seem ironic for a memoir that details the life of a woman in solitary confinement to be concerned with companionship, Ginzburg’s narrative testifies to the deep longing for connection between human beings. At the most fundamental level, Ginzburg’s memoir is about being thrown in prison, cut off from family, and separated in almost every way from society. As deprivation induces a desire to fill the void, a prisoner such as Ginzburg, particularly a prisoner in solitary confinement, naturally desires companionship. Such is the case whenever Ginzburg finds herself in a cell with another prisoner, both of them inevitably talking each other hoarse. Ginzburg also finds a great deal of comfort in reciting and reading poetry, which gives her the sense of communing with the outside world. Moreover, the crux of the Communist system, to which Ginzburg adheres even after her arrest, is communality. A real sense of companionship exists among the party members toward the beginning of the memoir, and real emotion fills Ginzburg’s tone whenever she writes the word comrade.

The Need for Communication

The fact that Ginzburg relates her experience to others in the form of a written narrative speaks to the intrinsic human desire to share significant experiences. Storytelling is a fundamental form of communication, and a published book is communication in a print medium, not so different from the tapping on the prison walls or singing news set to opera melodies, as Ginzburg does in prison. No matter how fierce the oppressors in any of the Soviet prisons, the prisoners still manage to find a way to communicate. Just as the poetry of great Russian writers inspires Ginzburg throughout her ordeal because they show her she is not alone, so is Ginzburg’s own memoir both a testimony to her experience and a sort of message in a bottle to future generations. On the levels of political ideology, storytelling, characterization, and historical reportage, communication between writer and sympathetic listener is at the heart of the memoir.