Writing Life. Varlam Shalamov: Biography and Poetics

The focus of this project was the publication of a biography of the Russian author Varlam Shalamov (1907–1982).

It is only since the beginning of the 21st century that Shalamov has come to the attention of the international public. In 2007 the publishing house Matthes & Seitz Berlin began the multivolume collection of Shalamov’s works with Erzählungen aus Kolyma 1 – Warlam Schalamow: Durch den Schnee [The Kolyma Tales 1 – Varlam Schalamov: Through the Snow]. The collection, translated by Gabriele Leupold and edited by Franziska Thun-Hohenstein, promoted the discovery of a great author, whose role in academic debates around the world about writing “after Auschwitz” and “after the Gulag” ought not be overlooked. The complexity, poetic intensity, and laconic tenor of the more than 150 Kolyma Tales in the collection make Shalamov one of the most unconventional literary voices of the 20th century. However, there is to date no comprehensive, scholarly presentation of his body of work (not even in Russia) that does justice to the complex interconnections between his biography and poetics, while also taking into account the cultural-historical conditions of the Soviet Union during his lifetime.

This project will address this lacuna by examining Shalamov’s body of work (with special attention to his prose) and the problem of narrating human life after Auschwitz and after the Gulag. The project integrates multiple research perspectives, including philological and biographical approaches as well as ones from literary studies and cultural history. In terms of the complex relationship between life and writing after the Gulag, this project tracks Shalamov’s use of literary form to analyze his oeuvre and his aesthetic explorations from the 1920s/1930s to the 1970s. His extremely fragmented life and the socio-cultural context of the Soviet Union also inform the analysis of his works. In the monograph, these caesuras will constitute the points of departure from which the various stages of Shalamov’s intellectual biography are then reconstructed, using the poetics of his literary texts as a basis.


Fig. above: Varlam Shalamov (1907–1982)

funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) 2016–2020
Head researcher(s): Franziska Thun-Hohenstein


Franziska Thun-Hohenstein

Das Leben schreiben
Warlam Schalamow: Biographie und Poetik

Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2022, 536 pages
ISBN 978-3-95757-037-6
Susanne Frank, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein (ed./eds.)

Körper, Gedächtnis, Literatur in (post-)totalitären Kulturen
Sonderband des Wiener Slawistischen Almanachs

Vol. 85 (2020)
Peter Lang, Berlin 2021, 484 pages
ISBN 978-3-631-84365-9 (Print); 978-3-631-84410-6 (E-Pub)
Dirk Naguschewski, Matthias Schwartz (ed./eds.)


Fröhliche Wissenschaft vol. 132
Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2018, 176 pages
ISBN 978-3-95757-554-8

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein


Reading and talk
20 Sep 2023 · 7.00 pm

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein: Das Leben schreiben. Warlam Schalamow: Biografie und Poetik

Max-Lingner-Haus, Beatrice-Zweig-Straße 2, 13156 Berlin

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Book presentation and talk
17 May 2023 · 5.00 pm

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein: “Das Leben schreiben.” Warlam Schalamow: Biografie und Poetik

Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus, Chausseestraße 125, 10115 Berlin

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Book presentation
09 Nov 2022 · 7.00 pm

Das Leben schreiben. Warlam Schalamow: Biographie und Poetik

Haus für Poesie, Knaackstr. 97, 10435 Berlin

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07 Oct 2022 · 9.30 am

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein: “Writing Life.” Experiences from the Work on a Biography of Varlam Shalamov

Università degli Studi di Milano, Sala Napoleonica, Via Sant’Antonio, 12, 20122 Milano, Italy

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Lesung und Gespräch
16 Dec 2019 · 6.00 pm

»…dass der Tod kein bisschen schlimmer ist als das Leben.« Warlam Schalamow, Schreiben nach dem Gulag

Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr, Olbrichtplatz 2, 01099 Dresden

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11 Oct 2019 · 1.00 pm

Kolyma in other Languages. Translating and Publishing Varlam Shalamov’s Work Abroad

Södertörn University, Campus Flemingsberg, Alfred Nobels allé 7, 141 89 Huddinge (SWE), MA 756, CBEES

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13 Feb 2019 · 8.00 pm

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein: Ästhetische Distanztechniken bei Schalamow und Brecht

Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus, Chausseestraße 125, 10115 Berlin

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12 May 2016 · 10.30 am

Schalamow. Lektüren

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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21 Jan 2016 · 6.15 pm

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein: Warlam Schalamow. Poetik und Biographie

Bonatzbau der Universitätsbibliothek, Wilhelmstr. 32, 72074 Tübingen

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19 Sep 2013

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein: »Fantiki« des Lebens. Die Poetik (auto-)biographischer Texte Warlam Schalamows

Strahovské nádvoří 1/132, 118 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic

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Media Response

06 Nov 2023
Im Lager der Literatur

Review by Aage A. Hansen-Löve, in: Wespennest 185 (2023), 96–102

20 Sep 2023
Gedichte wie Gebete als Antwort auf den Terror

Review by Uwe Wolff, in: Die Tagespost (20 Sep 2023)

02 Aug 2023
Anpassung nützte wenig

Review by Wolfgang Schneider, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 177 (2 Aug 2023), 10

10 Mar 2023
Abschluß und Auftakt zugleich

Review by Volker Strebel, in: literaturkritik.de, 10 Mar 2023

04 Mar 2023
Kontakt mit der Vergangenheit

Review by Fokke Joel, in: taz, 4 Mar 2023

02 Mar 2023
Das Lager erzählen

Review by Ulrike Baureithel, in: WOZ Die Wochenzeitung 9 (2 Mar 2023)

26 Jan 2023
Warlam Schalamow: Die karge Meisterprosa eines Antistalinisten

Review by Ronald Pohl, in: Der Standard, 26 Jan 2023


20 Sep 2023 Audio
“Das Leben schreiben. Warlam Schalamow: Biografie und Poetik”
Reading and talk with Franziska Thun-Hohenstein at the Max-Lingner-Haus, moderated by Wladislaw Hedeler
© Helle Panke e.V.

3 May 2022 Audio
“Warlam Schalamow – am Kältepol der Grausamkeit”
Podcast “Kontext” on SRF with Franziska Thun-Hohenstein
© WDR 3