The Strastnoy of Ayn Rand

[cross-posted at POT and Facebook]

Ayn Rand’s Red Pawn, written in the 1930s, takes place on the imaginary Strastnoy (“Passion,” in the Christian theological sense) Island, in “the Arctic waters off the Siberian coast,” where a Christian monastery has been converted into a Soviet prison camp.

In real life there actually was, during the 1920s and 30s, a Christian monastery that had been converted into a Soviet prison camp, on a remote island in Arctic waters – though on the western side of Russia, not the eastern, Siberian side – namely Solovki Prison on Solovetzky Island, which was actually the nucleus of the entire Gulag system. (Appropriately enough, the Gulag Archipelago began on a literal archipelago.)

Solovki Prison is not as forbidding-looking as the one described in Rand’s story (Rand’s version has a bit more the flavour of the Château d’If), but I still suspect it influenced the tale. (During World War II, Solovki became a military base. Today it is a monastery again.) (There was also a Strastnoy monastery in Moscow that was demolished by the Soviets, and might have influenced Rand’s choice of name.)

Would Rand have been aware of Solovki Prison? I think likely yes, since two books had been published on it in the west during the 1920s, by former inmates – S. A. Malsagoff’s An Island Hell: A Soviet Prison in the Far North, and Youri Bezsonov’s Mes vingt-six prisons et mon évasion de Solovki.

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