The Zone Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Zona: Zapiski nadziratelia, 1982 (English translation, 1985)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social morality

Time of work: The early 1960’s

Locale: A labor camp in Komi, in the northern Soviet Union

Characters DiscussedSergei Dovlatov

Sergei Zone, TheDovlatov (sehr-GAY dov-LAH-tov), the author not only of The Zone but also of a series of letters to its Russian émigré publisher, Igor Yefimov, reprinted at intervals throughout the novel. The letters act in part as a frame story but chiefly as a vehicle for direct comment by the author on the Soviet labor camp “archipelago” in which he served as an army guard from 1963 through 1965. His most important conclusion is that there is no fundamental difference between guards and prisoners (zeks).

Boris Alikhanov

Boris Alikhanov (ah-lih-KHA-nov), a labor camp guard for special punishment cells, the fictional counterpart to Dovlatov. Tough and strong, standing more than six feet tall, he attended college for three years and reads books. He is also part Jewish, but he does not advertise this fact. His friendships with a variety of guards and zeks, representing twenty Soviet nationalities, gradually teach him that even in the vast remoteness of a northern camp, life offers all that one needs to know about human existence. Alikhanov, the hard-drinking guard, suffers as much as do the prisoners. One night, horribly drunk on zek moonshine, he starts a big fight in the barracks and has to be tied up with telephone wire. In the morning, he is escorted (by his best friend) into one of the very cells he has been guarding. Thus, the guard who has sympathized with the prisoners becomes a prisoner himself.

Lance Corporal “Fidel” Petrov

Lance Corporal “Fidel” Petrov, Alikhanov’s best friend. He is called Fidel because at a political lesson once, when asked to name a member of the Politburo, he said, “Fidel Castro.” It is he who is told to escort Alikhanov to the stockade. On the way, Alikhanov simply walks off into the snow. Petrov threatens to shoot him, but Alikhanov keeps walking. Finally, Petrov begins to weep and tells Alikhanov that he can do what he wants, whereupon Alikhanov returns to his escort, accepts his punishment, and saves Petrov from a similar fate.

Boris Kuptsov

Boris Kuptsov, a zek who refuses to work, an extreme individualist. One day, in front of Alikhanov, Kuptsov chops off his own hand with an ax. Alikhanov sees something of himself in Kuptsov.

Captain Pavel Romanovich Egorov

Captain Pavel Romanovich Egorov (PAH-vehl roh-MAH-noh-vihch yeh-GOH-rov), a twelve-year veteran of the camps. He goes on leave to Sochi and brings back a bride, who suffers much in the married officers’ quarters. When the barking from the kennels nearly brings her to hysteria, the captain goes out with his rifle and shoots Harun, the dog making the most noise. He returns proudly with the corpse.


Katya, Captain Egorov’s wife. A graduate student sick of intellectuals, she found Egorov’s honesty and bluntness refreshing. She is ashamed of herself for not being able to tolerate the freezing filth of the officers’ quarters, but she cannot accustom herself to life in the far north.

Captain Tokar

Captain Tokar, an old veteran of the camps who loves only one living thing, his dog Brooch. The dog is killed, cooked, and eaten by the zeks one night at a party, to which Alikhanov, ambling along through “the zone,” is invited. When Alikhanov learns the truth about the “cutlets” that the zeks are eating, he honorably informs Captain Tokar of the fate of his dog. Later, when Alikhanov is sent to the stockade, Captain Tokar cannot bring himself to rescind the order.

BibliographyClark, Katerina. “Souls in the Gulag,” in The New York Times Book Review. XC (October 27, 1985), p. 45.Fiene, Donald M. “Sergei Dovlatov, Zona: Zapiski nadziratelia,” in Slavic and East European Journal. XXVII (Summer, 1983), pp. 272-273.Grimes, William. “A Novel of Crime and Freezing Punishment in Russia,” in Christian Science Monitor. LXXVIII (January 21, 1986), p. 26.Karriker, Alexandra H. “Sergei Dovlatov: Zona,” in World Literature Today. LVII (Autumn, 1983), p. 654.Serman, Ilia. “Teatr Sergeia Dovlatova,” in Grani. L, no. 136 (1985), pp. 138-162.
Categories: Characters