Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov, born in 1907, was a Soviet dissident author whose magnum opus, Kolyma Stories, reflects the fifteen years he spent in the Gulag, including six years as a slave in the gold mines of Kolyma. The article traces Shalamov’s travails, beginning with his first arrest, in 1929, for participating in a student group that clandestinely published the so-called “Lenin’s Testament,” a text delineating the inadequacies of the Party leadership and recommending the removal of Stalin from the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. In 1952 Shalamov, still in exile, succeeded in sending two collections of poetry written in Kolyma to Boris Pasternak, then living in Moscow. Pasternak received the poetry, which at the time had no chance of getting published, with enthusiasm. Thus began a correspondence between Pasternak and Shalamov about the dehumanizing effects of totalitarian rulership and the obligations of the writer to capture the political realities of the twentieth century.