The late 1920s… Convicted of murdering his father, Artiom Goriainov is serving a sentence of several years on the Solovki Archipelago. Artiom is a strong young man who survives all facets of the hell that is the Soviet camps: hunger, cold, betrayal, the death of friends, a failed escape attempt and a love affair. Unlike the many political prisoners at Solovki, he has no strong convictions. He is an everyman who, like the Virgil of Solovki, simply narrates what is happening in front of his eyes. His only motivation is to survive.
Founded in the 15th century on an archipelago in the White Sea, from 1923 the monastery became a “camp of special designation,” the foundation stone of the Soviet GULAG system. The novel describes a period when Solovki was being converted from a re-education camp for “socially damaging elements” into what eventually became a mass labor camp. The notion of a Utopia for “forging new human beings,” complete with a library, athletic events, and research laboratories, eventually mutated into a hell of despotism and brutality.
Published with the support of the Institute for Literary Translation, Russia
Nicholas Kotar is a writer of epic fantasy inspired by Russian fairy tales, a freelance translator from Russian to English, the resident conductor of a men’s choir at a Russian monastery in the middle of cow country, and a Grammy-nominated vocalist. His only regret in life is that he wasn’t born in 19th century St. Petersburg, but he’s doing everything he possibly can to remedy that error.
Endorsements and Review Quotes
“The novel ticks all of the Gulag prose boxes: extreme violence, murder, rape, starvation, disease, cruelty, and unimaginable cold. After falling foul of the camp’s guards, Artiom finds a way out of this awfulness, for short bursts of time at least, and here the novel ventures into territory seldom covered in other prison literature and takes a turn for prison porn.” Sarah Gear, Los Angeles Review of Books
“The Monastery had some critics reaching for comparisons to Dostoevsky, and there is something of him in the ornate conversations between the prisoners. But narratively speaking, Artiom is more reminiscent of a 19thcentury British protagonist, a figure from Scott or Stevenson. He hurtles from peril to safety and back to peril again, guided by his sense of fairness.” James Meek, The London Review of Books
“And that is where the book ultimately leads us: to the human soul. All of Artyom’s wanderings are there not to take us to any particular physical or logical location, but to the understanding that, indeed, humanity is dark and terrifying, even if the world can be human and warm.” Dr. E.P. Clark
“Given the length, the detail, the complexity, the rich cast of characters and superb story-telling, this book is destined to become a Russian classic. It has been made into a TV series in Russia. While there have certainly been other first-class post-Soviet novels, this book will surely be read for many years to come.” The Modern Novel
“Based, apparently, on archival sources and family stories of Prilepin’s great-grandfather Zakhar Petrov, The Monastery is also a coming-of-age story in which Artiom learns the hard way that his fate is capricious and that betrayal is routine.” Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
“Touching very sensitive issues such as the Gulag, Prilepin based his work on diaries and archives and depicts close-to-life personalities among the camp’s authorities. A modern book about dark Soviet times is absolutely no less worth reading than the novels of prominent Gulag survivors Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Varlam Shalamov.” Alexandra Guzeva, Russia Beyond
“What could be more enlightened, for a group like the Bolsheviks whose own collective and individual past was often defined by exile or penal servitude, than to extend to each prisoner the chance to one day re-enter society a better person than when they were expelled from it?” Peter Lowe, Pushkin House blog
“After some decades of printing all these sad and tragic books, Soviet publishers ceased, and reader interest declined because digesting such awful matters is not easy. So, Prilepin’s The Monastery is one of the first books in modern Russia that once again delves into the Gulag.” Alexandra Guzeva, Russia Beyond
“The strong historical setting, the drama, the vivid descriptions, and the large cast of characters all combine to make this a compelling read. […] it’s quite an achievement and essential reading for anyone interested in Russian literature and Russian history, or for anyone who simply enjoys an absorbing, if hard-hitting, story.” Mandy Jenkinson, Historical Novel Society
“With regard to Zakhar Prilepin’s literary talent, the novel continues the traditions of skilful portrayal of characters, unhurried plot development and, most importantly, exquisite command of the Russian language. The author has been commended by many critics for the latter and has been called the ‘Tolstoy of modern Russia’.” Natalia Batova, Australian Slavonic and East European Studies (ASEES) Journal