Alexey Wangenheim’s undelivered letters home were the chrysalis of this heartbreaking story
Alexey Wangenheim had his head in the clouds. As the head of the Soviet Union’s meteorology department, he was an expert on towering cumulonimbi, wavy stratocumuli and grey altostrati. One evening in 1934, his wife waited for him outside Moscow’s Bolshoi theatre. He never saw her or the opera because he was in a cell in Lubyanka prison. Although Stalin once had a casual job monitoring rainfall in his native Georgia, that didn’t save the weatherman, who was exiled to the country’s first gulag in the White Sea. Decades later, Olivier Rolin visited the island’s 15th-century monastery and found letters that Wangenheim had written for his wife and small daughter. Intrigued by the delicate drawings of animals and plants, Rolin uncovers an all too familiar, yet heartbreaking, story.
• Stalin’s Meteorologist: One Man’s Untold Story of Love, Life and Death by Olivier Rolin is published by Harvill Secker (£16.99). To order a copy for £14.44 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99
Link : Stalin’s Meteorologist by Olivier Rolin review – from hero to gulag