Sergei Dovlatov (sehr-GAY dov-LAH-tov), the author not only of The Zone but also of a series of letters to its Russian émigré publisher, Igor Yefimov, reprinted at intervals throughout the novel. The letters act in part as a frame story but chiefly as a vehicle for direct comment by the author on the Soviet labor camp “archipelago” in which he served as an army guard from 1963 through 1965. His most important conclusion is that there is no fundamental difference between guards and prisoners (zeks).
Boris Alikhanov (ah-lih-KHA-nov), a labor camp guard for special punishment cells, the fictional counterpart to Dovlatov. Tough and strong, standing more than six feet tall, he attended college for three years and reads books. He is also part Jewish, but he does not advertise this fact. His friendships with a variety of guards and zeks, representing twenty Soviet nationalities, gradually teach him that even in the vast remoteness of a northern camp, life offers all that one needs to know about human existence. Alikhanov, the hard-drinking guard, suffers as much as do the prisoners. One night, horribly drunk on zek moonshine, he starts a big fight in the barracks and has to be tied up with telephone wire. In the morning, he is escorted (by his best friend) into...
(The entire section is 573 words.)