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Imprisoned Russian entrepreneur puts pencil to paper

October 25, 2011 |  8:31 am

Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was an outspoken opponent of Vladimir Putin, and for his efforts he was arrested for tax evasion, fraud and money laundering in 2003. While the charges are widely thought to have been politically motivated, Khodorskovsky still wound up behind bars, where he has engaged in the grand Russian tradition of writing while imprisoned, as Los Angeles Times reporter Sergei L. Loiko writes:

Already imprisoned for nearly eight years, the inmate who once was Russia's richest man must still see at least 1,800 more sunrises from behind his barracks window, his view of the real world beyond the camp fence with barbed wire on top.

But armed with a pen and pencil, Mikhail Khodorkovsky is following in a grand, if grim, Russian literary tradition: writing about his life in a gulag-style camp he has described as "an anti-world" where "lying is a norm and truth an exception." ...

[T]he 48-year-old former billionaire has contributed more than 100 articles, interviews and short stories to media organizations in Russia and abroad. In the writings, he not only defends his honor and denies all the charges against him, but also responds to the political, economic or moral challenges that Russian society faces.

In recent weeks, Khodorkovsky has started a series of columns called "Prison Folk" for the New Times, an influential Russian weekly political magazine. In them, he approaches his characters with the sharp eye of an intellectual observer but also the compassion of a fellow prisoner, giving his prose a touch of the desperate hope prevalent in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's classic "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."

Read more about Khodorkovsky's literary evolution in Loiko's article.


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— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2007. Credit: Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times