THE SOLOVETSKY ISLANDS lie in the White Sea, an overnight ferry-ride west of Archangel and the same distance south of the Arctic Circle. Covered in bogs, woodland and hummocky glacial hills, they are important as the site both of an ancient Orthodox monastery, and of Stalin's first labour camp.
The Novgorod city fathers gave the Solovetskys to the Church in 1450, and the fortress-monastery the Church built there swiftly grew magnificent on fishing, salt-distillation, and pilgrimage. Its relations with the state were ambivalent. Tsar Alexis had to besiege it for eight years to enforce Patriarch Nikon's religious reforms of