Alexander Dolinin’s Against Destiny is a striking and powerful novel that maybe occupies
a unique place in English, translated, and also Russian literature, in which it has
its roots. There have been numerous documentary and fictionalized accounts of life
in the Stalinist GULag, but this is virtually the first full length story of one
of those rare but still conceivable escapes from the Soviet punitive system. The
escapers, together with their fellow prisoners, their guards and pursuers, as well
as various personalities they encounter en route, offer a microscopic view of Soviet
society in the postwar years, reminding one of Solzhenitzyn’s First Circle and Cancer
Ward. Although a work of fiction, every detail of the novel and its background has
been minutely and scrupulously researched , in a manner reminiscent of Frederick
Forsyth. The result is a novel that has a cogency, a sense of psychological and documentary
realism, and an ideological message that place it among the best writings in any
language on this harrowing subject matter.
Christopher Barnes, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature , University of
author of Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography (Cambridge University Press)
Alexander Dolinin's Against Destiny is a fast-paced political thriller, a story of
endurance, determination and passion for freedom. It involves four political prisoners
and their Chukchi tracker-guide-shaman in their trek from the Soviet gulag in eastern
Siberia to the Bering Strait and asylum in Alaska. Their 1400-mile-long escape is
well-drawn, realistic and wholly credible, full of tension, threat and hardship.
Dolinin's first-hand experience of life in the Soviet Union and his subsequent, considerable
historical research provide firm foundation for this impressive first novel. It would
make a very suspenseful and successful movie. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Brian John, Professor Emeritus of English, McMaster University
I have just about completed reading Against Destiny by Alexander Dolinin. As I have
not thoroughly completed the book I cannot comment on what I have not read. However,
thus far, and I'm on the last section of the book, I have felt the chilling effect
the Siberian climate has to offer, the discomforts of life, and the incredible drive
to reach some version of freedom from a society fraught with a silent sort of Reign
of Terror. Even the most dedicated and honourable of men can end up as part of the
miserable Gulag that Russia has become so infamous in supporting for its so-called
traitors to the Communist regime. There is a standard of compassion and decency in
this book that has not been buried in the Russian psyche of Stalinism. How it has
been preserved is why you need to read this story of native Siberians’ strength and
regard for their own beliefs, alongside a humanistic Christian ethic that makes this
riveting tale one that will keep your attention.
No nation should have to be wrapped up in such a society that they have no chance
to say what they need to say without the fear of being silenced forever.
I believe that the author has caught the power of man to find something better than
a system of life that keeps you in bondage even though you are not in prison.
Jane Evans, retired nurse’s aide
Alexander Dolinin’s Against Destiny is a gripping, unsparing tale of the imprisonment
of five men in the Kolyma slave labour camp in Eastern Russia immediately after WWII,
and of their escape from it. At a time when Russian authorities are once again trying
to suppress the memory of Soviet brutality, Against Destiny brings the sufferings
in the Gulag to life and reminds us of the shameful Soviet past.
Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
This historical novel is the first fictional account of an escape from Stalin's Gulag.
Set in the period soon after the Second World War, it tells the story of four ex-soldiers
who find themselves in a labour camp in eastern Siberia for political offences. Facing
almost certain death from the harsh conditions, they join with an aboriginal prisoner
in a daring escape. Pursued by units of the Soviet army, they make their way east
towards the Bering Strait, with the aim of crossing it in winter when it is covered
with ice. The first part, set in the camp, is gruesome but accurate. The rest of
the novel, as the friends make their escape and encounter pursuers, is absolutely
gripping–I found it hard to put it down. Along the way, the friends talk about their
past–the reader gets a sense of the variety of political reasons why people ended
up in Stalin's camps. I won't spoil the reader's pleasure by revealing how the book
David Hitchcock, Professor of Philosophy, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Mr. James McKinnon
Editor, Kunati Inc.
I received from Mr A. Dolinin the galley of his novel Against Destiny and read it
with pleasure. I highly appreciate your publishing such a book. Hitler's crimes are
recognized by the whole world and definitely condemned. But the unconditional condemnation
of Communists' crimes, which are more horrible, is still not part of the Western
psyche. There are still countries where you see monuments to Lenin! There are still
Communist countries—even if some of them call themselves differently. To preach Nazi
ideology is a crime in many countries; but in no country is it a crime to preach
Communist ideology. And in fact, it is not strange that extreme Muslim fanatics and
Communists form always a common front. Therefore, your publishing Against Destiny
constitutes an important contribution to the cause of the defense of our civilization.
I have no doubts that, for any reader, this novel will be an eye-opener.
Igor Mel’čuk, Professor, Dept. of Linguistics and Translation, University of Montreal
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
... novel is FANTASTIC. My mother loved it, my sister is reading it next, and I will
soon give it to my neighbour. What a story!!
Jan Sobocan, London, Ontario
The book depicts the inhuman conditions of a Soviet labour camp and an incredible
escape of five prisoners. The novel portrays the extraordinary survival skills of
these men, their struggle against the harsh environment of the North and their determination
to seek freedom even if the price for it is life.
Some of the best pages of the novel depict the traditional lifestyle of the Chukchi
people, their worship of ancestral deities and their mistrust of the "Big Mustache"
and the Soviet authorities. Owing to the Chukchi hospitality and their help, the
five runaways manage to prepare themselves for their risky crossing of the Bering
Strait and their encounters with the pursuing Red Army soldiers.
The fictional characters are drawn with a great skill and empathy and are conveyed
mostly through dialogue, rather than through external description or evaluation.
With its strong presence of direct speech and its dynamic plot, the narrative reads
like a script for an action movie.
Nina Kolesnikoff, Professor, Department of Linguistics and Languages, McMaster University
Against Destiny is a horrifying, gripping and utterly credible story of life in a
Stalin-era detention camp followed by the suspense of an escape across the northern
icy wastes of the Soviet Union.
Margaret John, retired teacher, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada