Dokhodyagas: the goners

Photo book by Tomasz Kizny
While searching the internet for a possible gulag bread recipe to try and re-create for my upcoming launch, I again stumbled on the term dokhodiaga which means “goner.”  It’s the fate of one of Katya’s co-prisoners in my new novel, Crow Stone.

Dokhodiaga (or dakhodyaga) is a frightening term and relevant not only to the dying in a faraway gulag camp somewhere in Stalin’s era. It can apply to society in present-day Canada, too. I’ve seen dokhodyagas in the last week here in Winnipeg. 

A couple of them were sitting in the pretty dining room at the care centre where one of my dear friends is living out her life with a rapidly soul-sucking dementia. It’s sucking my soul … she, hopefully, is blissfully unaware of her new world of institutionalized personal care, surrounded by goners who yowl with imaginary pain or fold the same napkin over and over, humming off-key.

Souvenir Gulag Spoons: Aren't they pretty
& rather insulting?
The ‘goners’ are also on our Winnipeg streets. Maybe they're the ones who hold up signs saying, Smile, God loves you. Or, any little bit will help? No, they’re not goners, not yet. It’s the other ones, huddling in bus shelters under dirty blankets, surrounded by garbage, and other soul-less goners. The ones who can’t ask for help. One of them froze to death during our recent cold snap.

The goners. Without hope, maybe we’d all be goners. Like those in the gulag camps who could no longer work and then wouldn’t get food and who then got weaker and still couldn’t work and gradually disappeared—like our street people, our dokhodyagas. Here, in Canada.

Dare I try a Russian gulag bread? Somehow, I don’t think we could ever appreciate how it tastes. We’re not hungry enough. 


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