The title of this prison memoir, that takes its place among the classics of spiritual courage, comes from Natan Sharansky’s favorite Psalm, the 23rd. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” The Psalms sustained Sharansky’s resolve never to succumb to his captors during his nine years in Soviet jails and work camps.b

Sharansky did not plan a heroic life. He graduated in 1972 from the Soviet equivalent of MIT and went to work as a computer specialist at the Institute of Oil and Gas. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the anti-Semitic campaigns in Russia in the early 1970’s led him to reject “the servile, soulless life” of the Soviet citizen, and to decide to request permission to emigrate to Israel.

Sharansky was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1977 in Moscow and taken to Lefortovo prison. He was 29. His efforts on behalf of his fellow Jews who wanted to emigrate, and his association with Andrei Sakharov and others who sought to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki accords on human rights, had made the young dissident a nuisance. The way to silence such a “nuisance” was to put him out of the way. And this the KGB did.

When Sharansky was arrested on Gorky Street on March 15, 1977, the Soviet authorities surely did not suspect that their small, defiant target would become a symbol throughout the world of fierce moral courage—sustaining his fellow Russian Jews seeking freedom and all who struggled for human rights in the Soviet Union.

Sharansky’s captors could not have been prepared for the relentless consistency of their prisoner who refused to make any deal with them to gain his own release. This spirit shines forth in a story Sharansky relates about the time in 1983 when he was confronted with an offer carried by his brother from Ambassador Max Kampelman, United States representative to the Helsinki Accord talks in Madrid: If the prisoner were to write a letter to the KGB requesting release for reasons of poor health, the Soviet authorities would grant the request. Sharansky turned down the offer of freedom. He told his brother that “asking the authorities to show humanity means acknowledging that they represent a legitimate force that administers justice.”

Sharansky reveals in his autobiography that his courage to resist evil was strengthened by the words of Psalm 39:2–3: “While the wicked man was in my presence I was dumb, silent; I held my peace while my pain was intense.”

The KGB also never anticipated the indomitable struggle of Sharansky’s wife Avital to keep her husband’s unjust imprisonment before e conscience of world leaders.

Fear No Evil is both Natan’s telling of his experiences during nine years in Soviet custody as well as a remarkable love story between two young activists in the fight for the rights of Soviet Jews. Natan (then Anatoly) and Avital married in July 1974. One day after their wedding Avital, having received a visa, left for Israel, expecting that her husband would soon follow. It was almost 12 years before they saw each other again, when Sharansky was released in a prisoner exchange. But during all those years Avital kept her husband’s case alive with the press and with Western officials, and he carried with him her tattered picture and the certainty that she was unceasingly knocking on doors of the world’s leaders to free her husband Tolya.

At the moment of their reunion, Natan’s sense of humor that had so often aided him in the grimmest days of imprisonment, burst forth again: “In a desperate attempt,” he remembers, “to swallow the lump in my throat and to wipe the tears from our faces with a smile, I tell Avital in Hebrew, ‘Sorry I’m late.’ ”—Ed.

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