Crime or Punishment: Russian Narratives of Incarceration

This I Cannot Forget

This I Cannot Forget
Anna Mikhailovna Larina


PLOT SUMMARY: The memoir This I Cannot Forget examines Anna Larina’s experience in exile and prison from the late 1930s and into the 1950s. Her reflections on prison time focus mainly on the first few years and places where she was held, as well as her transports between them. Larina’s memoir provides insight into the treatment she received due to her status as the wife of a famous politician and perceived traitor, Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin was a Bolshevik who worked alongside Lenin and Trotsky in his early years. Her experience is also marked by her husband’s trial and how news of it affected her throughout her times in prison. 

     While the memoir focuses on Larina, it also weaves between her anecdotes from prison and historical accounts of the preceding events of her and Bukharin’s arrest. In fact, it also functions as a love story, depicting her and Bukharin’s love despite their age difference. Larina, through her accounts of the underlying politics and secrets that the government held, attempts to clear Bukharin’s name and showcase the widespread corruption and secret ploys against members of the parties, headed by Stalin, in Russia in the 1930s. 


ANALYSIS: In This I Cannot Forget, Anna Larina provides both a historical account of the widespread plot to arrest as many potential threats and descendants as possible, while detailing her own experiences in prison. She depicts Bukharin as an innocent and well-loved Bolshevik who Stalin scapegoated, along with many other figures at the time, and executed following a famous and public trial. Larina’s only motivation to get through jail is the idea of clearing her husband’s name—in fact, she memorizes a letter that he wanted to publish, and repeats it daily as to not forget it during her 20 years of incarceration. This motivation allows her to endure torture, interrogation, and a variety of horrible environments and living conditions. Her memoir juggles the themes of love and family throughout—she describes many families being torn apart. Her own resilience stems from her love for Bukharin and her belief in his innocence and her ability to clear his name. Her anecdotes mirror this phenomenon: she finds stories of love for children, husbands, and other people from many of the women she meets in her long stay in prison. 


     Larina shocks with her ability to adapt to each environment and to find the best in her situation, despite all the horrors that surround her. From making friends with rats in her cell to writing poetry about the good things she encounters, such as friendly guards, Larina is able to find ways to withstand her long sentence. Even though she is unable to see her son for decades, she imagines speaking to him and sees him in other children that she encounters. Her resilience, also found in moments like when she refuses food on a transport train or when she keeps silent during particularly painful interrogations, is astounding and allows her to endure the conditions that she does for 20 years. Larina’s story is a poignant depiction of determination and the power of an individual in a system that attempts to crush one’s humanity. 




“I was overcome by the desire to leave this life. It seemed the best way out of the hopeless situation in which I found myself. I could not shake the feeling that the dreadful turn of events was sucking me deeper and deeper into its bloody tunnel. Yet, at the same time, I had a strong incentive to prevail: I was duty bound to fulfill my husband’s last testament, to convey his letter-address, carefully preserved in my memory, ‘To a Future Generation of Party Leaders.’” (77)


“Happiness, I thought, is a remarkably relative concept. Even in great unhappiness there are flashes of happiness; life had more and more convinced me of that. At this moment, lying in the cell of my imaginary feather bed, satisfied with my conduct at the interrogation, with my emotional outburst and my revolt in defense of human dignity, I was happy” (89) 


“If someone had been able to peek into my soul at that moment, I would have been ashamed that this enchanting beauty of nature could delight me so, only six months after Nikolai Ivanovich’s death. Buy Ilya Ehrenburg had set it down accurately: ‘a person can be consoled by a trifle, the sound of leaves or a bright cloudburst in the summer.’ I remember that day as an extraordinary exception, never to be repeated in all the days of my confinement. But my mood was uplifted not only by nature, which struck me as fabulously beautiful are the impenetrable murk of the cellar, but by the young convoy guard who gave me the opportunity to enjoy it, who helped me understand that were still people on earth who remained sensitive and considerate despite their highly unpleasant duties.” (154-155).


BIOGRAPHY: Anna Larina was born in 1914 in Russia and was adopted by Yuri Larin, who was a prominent economist and politician. As a result, Anna Larina grew up surrounded by professional revolutionaries. In 1934 she married Nikolai Bukharin, a politician and prolific author. She gave birth to her son, Yuri, in 1936. Larina was arrested alongside Bukharin in 1937 by the NKVD and spent the next 20 years in labor camps, in prison, and exiled. She would spend these 20 years not seeing her son Yuri at all. 


     Larina spent the 20 years shuffling around prisons and camps, among them Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Astrakhan, and Saratov. Interestingly, she was not allowed to perform labor due to her status as Bukharin’s wife. During her time in prison, her husband died and she later married Fyodor Fadeyev, with whom she had two children. Larina was finally released from the Gulag in 1953. She was ill with tuberculosis, and her exile ended in 1959, after which she proceeded to return to Moscow. Larina spent the remainder of her life fighting to have her husband reinstated in the pantheon of revolutionary heroes. She died in 1996, having also written a memoir about her 20 years in the Gulag titled This I Cannot Forget




“Widow of the Revolution: The Anna Larina Story.” Films for Thought,


“Yuri Larin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Mar. 2018,


“Nikolai Bukharin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Mar. 2019,


“Anna Larina.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Jan. 2019,




Galloway, David. “Polemical Allusions in Russian Gulag Prose.” Slavic and East European Journal. vol. 51, no. 3, 2007.
In this article, Galloway examines four different pieces of work detailing experiences in the Gulag including Anna Larina’s account, and compare and contrasts them to each other. This piece provides context to how Larina’s memoir differs from others through her positions as Bukharin’s wife. 


Reed, Rosemarie. Widow of the Revolution: The Anna Larina Story. Filmmakers Library, 2001.
This 1-hour long documentary provides excerpts from interviews with Anna Larina as well as her own writing to examine Larina’s experiences in captivity and the role she played once she was released in clearing Bukharin’s name. 


Cohen, Stephen. “Bukharin’s Fate.” Dissent. vol. 45, no. 2, 1998.
Due to Anna Larina including in-depth historical accounts in her memoir, this article allows for readers to better understand Bukharin’s role within the Soviet Union and why his trial and execution were so famous and public. 

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