Writing Life. Varlam Shalamov: Biography and Poetics

This project focuses on the publication of a monograph on the Russian author Varlam Shalamov (1907–1982), who has moved into the international spotlight in recent decades.

In 2007 the publishers 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


Susanne Frank, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein (ed./eds.)

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

Bd. 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
Verlag Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2018, 176 pages
ISBN 978-3-95757-554-8

Franziska Thun-Hohenstein

  • Das Leben schreiben : Warlam Schalamow: Biografie und Poetik. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz (forthcoming 2022)
  • Die Auferweckung des “lebendigen Lebens.” Körper, Gedächtnis und Sprache im Werk von Varlam Šalamov, in: Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 85 (2020), special volume: Körper, Gedächtnis, Literatur in (post-)totalitären Kulturen, ed. by Susanne Frank, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein, 207–246
  • “A Grudge-holding Body”: Body and Memory in the Works of Varlam Shalamov, in: Fabian Heffermehl, Irina Karlsohn (eds.): The Gulag in Writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov. Boston: Brill 2021,142–176
  • Leidtragende Körper, in: ZfL Blog, 24 Jul 2019
  • Warlam Schalamow, article on the occasion of the 111th birthday of Varlam Shalamov, in: дekoder.org, 18 Jun 2018


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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