Kolyma Diaries: A Journey into Russia’s Haunted Hinterland, by Jacek Hugo-Bader, Portobello, RRP£16.99, 368 pages
In Kolyma Diaries, the Polish journalist Jacek Hugo-Bader sets out on an epic journey: hitchhiking along Russia’s 2,025km-long Kolyma Highway, which is haunted by the ghosts of the Gulags.
The landscape is brutal and the highway the only road through a region a third the size of Europe. It snakes from Magadan, the capital of Kolyma on the Sea of Okhotsk which appears at the opening of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, to Yakutsk. On every side is wilderness. This is a land in which bears eat stranded drivers and gravediggers burn tyres to melt the permafrost for cutting graves.
As in his previous book White Fever (2011), in which he drove across Siberia, Hugo-Bader extracts brilliant tales from the extraordinary characters he meets (and drinks with) along the way. The result is a staggering, eye-opening account of a hellish region in which “you must have nothing to lose, or no alternative, in order to settle.”