Evidence of great brutality is here in abundance. But what is heart-breaking and pitiful about these salvaged letters home is their very ordinariness – the tender love expressed for wives and children, the enquiries about their education and welfare, the little bits of advice about what to study, how to behave, well-meant homilies, as if everyone is trying to carry on participating in daily lives, giving voice to hope, when there was no hope.
My Father’s Letters is beautifully produced, with photographs of the men and their families, colour reproductions of the original correspondence and appendices giving details of individual prison camps, Soviet Judicial Bodies and Secret Police Agencies. There is also a section outlining Memorial’s mission. Georgia Thomson’s superb translation is supported by useful footnotes, with information about writers, places, politicians, Russian language and culture.