Cover image for Without vodka : adventures in wartime Russia
Without vodka : adventures in wartime Russia
Topolski, Aleksander, 1923-
Personal Author:
Steerforth Press edition, first U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press : Distributed by Publishers Group West, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 386 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 23 cm
General Note:
Previously published: Without vodka : wartime adventures in Russia. Ottawa : UP Press, 1999.

"This edition first published by McArthur & Company, 2000"--T.p. verso.
Personal Subject:
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D805.S65 T675 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Aleksander Toplski was 16 when he was called up for military service on the morning of August 24, 1939. In eight days his native Poland would be invaded by the Germans. Shortly thereafter, the Russians rolled in under the Hitler-Stalin pact, and when Topolski tried to sneak across the border into Romania, he was captured by Soviet border guards. Thus began a more than two-year-long ordeal through the Soviet Union's outrageously absurd penal system, described here with an unexpected sense of irony, and a superhuman capacity for recalling fascinating details.

Author Notes

Aleksander Topolski was born in 1923, the youngest of three children. He grew up in Pruzana, in the Pripet Marshes of eastern Poland, and in Horodenka, a small town in the country's southeastern corner. Following two years in Soviet captivity, he joined the army loyal to the Polish Emigree Government in London. A graduate in architecture from Manchester University, he practiced in England, Connecticut, Virginia, Puerto Rico, and the West Indies before settling in Canada. He has three grown children and lives with his wife, Joan Eddis, in Chelsea, Quebec.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The refugee literature of World War II benefits with Topolski's contribution, a striking recollection of three years in the gulag. His narrative's outstanding quality is the spare, sharply drawn descriptions of the characters surrounding him, whether benevolent, malevolent, or indifferent. A 16-year-old plane spotter when Poland was partitioned in 1939, Topolski was swept into the stream of thousands of Polish ex-military people deported to the USSR. Teenagers like Topolski deemed too young to be murdered, as about 15,000 Polish officers were on Stalin's direct order, were force-worked on starvation rations--and indeed unrelenting hunger and the perpetual obsession with food unifies the narrative. In league with a shifting constellation of fellow unfortunates, he schemed daily for anything edible, episodes that buttressed his optimism that he would make it through that day, and the next, until fortune changed. The wheel turned with the release of the Poles to form a new army, to reach the Central Asia training bases in which Topolski persevered through the adversity of no papers, no money, and no friends. An amazing odyssey vividly remembered. Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

At the beginning of World War II, Soviet troops arrested Topolski, a 16-year-old Pole, as he tried to sneak over the border into Romania to join the free Polish Army. The "adventures" described here are the ones the author endured over the next two years, as he was shuttled through the Soviet Union's labyrinthine prison system. As Topolski explains, the prisons were an experience in multiculturalism, as Jewish, Ukrainian, Central Asian, Polish and Russian prisoners mixed with others from the Caucasus Mountains. In the prison hierarchy, Poles and Jews were generally more educated, while Armenians, Georgians and Central Asians were often considered untrustworthy thieves and sexual offenders. The author himself used cunning, talentÄhe was able to elevate his status by passing as a draftsmanÄ and faith to keep himself alive. "Despite all that was going on around me, I held fast to my conviction that this was but a temporary reversal of fortune in my life." Topolski, who now lives in Canada, strikes the right balance between despair and humor as he describes the life of a teenager battling to survive. He pulls no punches in depicting the violence and hunger that were parts of daily life, but divulges little bitterness about his time in captivity. Indeed, he even offers some philosophical thoughts. While the book displays an understandable anti-Soviet animus, what emerges is the conviction that individualsÄwhether guards or prisonersÄcan control their actions, even in the worst of situations. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Map of Author's Routep. ii
Acknowledgmentsp. vi
Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 Enter Redsp. 1
Chapter 2 Time to Gop. 23
Chapter 3 A Jolly Slammerp. 39
Chapter 4 One Star Sing Singp. 57
Chapter 5 In Transitp. 72
Chapter 6 Orient Expressp. 92
Chapter 7 Dungeons and Dragonsp. 103
Chapter 8 Doing Timep. 118
Chapter 9 Bad to Worsep. 139
Chapter 10 Corrective Labour Colony No. 7p. 154
Chapter 11 Cellmatesp. 166
Chapter 12 Beautiful Zhenya's Entouragep. 185
Chapter 13 Arma Virumque Canop. 200
Chapter 14 Vyat-Lagp. 223
Chapter 15 Cold Comfortp. 244
Chapter 16 Deputy Chief Engineerp. 259
Chapter 17 Beyond the Uralsp. 278
Chapter 18 The Commissar from Farabp. 299
Chapter 19 The Rose Tattoop. 311
Chapter 20 Golden Samarkandp. 320
Chapter 21 Kolkhoz Kizil Sharkp. 332
Chapter 22 Making of a Soldierp. 345
Chapter 23 Oasis in the Hungry Steppep. 366
Chapter 24 Farewell Unwashed Russiap. 378
Postscriptp. 385