Clearly, his love for Svetlana gave him enormous succour, and while their romance is deeply moving and admirable, not all their letters are that gripping. We've all read about lovers missing each other, and after a while, the effusions of love and quotations from Akhmatova pale a little.
Figes has done a competent job of selecting and editing the letters and has anchored them in his clear exposition of the period and the background of Lev and Svetlana's romance. Their plight might have been a common one, but it is in the details of how they circumvented the Stalinist ethos that the book is superb, and demonstrates how, in the very worst of circumstances, ingenuity, humanity and courage can score against evil.
Svetlana's first visit to Lev was illegal, and only possible through the help of several people who risked their necks. When she finally gets to the gates of the camp, she is involved in a farcical scene where a drunk worker has to pretend to be her husband and needs to be "refreshed by a bucket of cold water", before being given an earful by his real wife who's not in on the arrangement. Later on, in an officially-sanctioned visit, she is granted only 20 minutes with Lev, but the guard cunningly and kindly refuses to log a start time for her visit, so she can spend several hours with him.
Figes depicts the winding-down of the gulag and its corruption with skill: "There was even a black market in ‘government secrets', official documents stolen from the headquarters of the MVD in the settlement and sold to the prisoners, some of whom got hold of their personal files and forged alterations to the articles of their sentence or even changed the date of their release."
Just Send Me Word contains few surprises for veterans of Solzhenitsyn or Shalamov, and could have been a little shorter, but Orlando Figes may well find a new audience for gulag tales with this accessible and poignant book.