Soviet writer Anatoly Marchenko was arrested on March 17, 1981, for the sixth time in his 43 years. On that very day, ironically, three Soviet publishing officials were in the United States promoting the Third Moscow Book Fair, scheduled for September. Many of us who attended the last Moscow fair in 1979 remember Marchenko: He was the guest of U.S. publishers at an unusual literary reception held in a fashionable Moscow restaurant one evening, several days after the fair had opened.

Making advance arrangements for the reception, we found the restaurant manager relaxed and congenial, eager to accommodate foreign visitors and to take our order for food and drink. On the night of the party, however, he stood frozen against the corridor wall, his face slack with disbelief, as Soviet writers -- including such notables as Andrei Sakharov, Lev Kopelev, Roy Medvedev and Vasily Aksyonov -- passed through a band of KGB plainclothes men milling around outside the restaurant and climbed the stairs to the banquet room where they were warmly greeted by their U.S. hosts.

A few of the more than 40 Soviet guests were published authors in the Soviet Union, members in good standing of the official Soviet Writers Union. Others had recently fallen from grace for having asked permission to publish a non-political literary journal called Metropol. Still others were well known "dissidents," long since silenced in their own country but still published and read abroad. The decision to attend our party was a courageous one, both for those already in disfavor and for those who still had something to lose. The noise, the laughter and the high-spirited toasting could not still an undercurrent of tension, the depths of which we outsiders could barely begin to fathom.

Standing in a corner, obviously ill at ease, were Anatoly Marchenko and his wife, Larisa Bogoraz. Theirs was hardly a well-publicized romance, yet it had caught my fancy over the years. Reading between the lines, I had learned the following: that Larisa, a linguist and intellectual, had worked courageously to defend her first husband, writer Yuli Daniel, who, in the notorious 1966 Sinvavsky-Daniel trial, was accused of publishing pseudonymous works abroad; that Yuli Daniel was sent to prison, where he met Marchenko, an uneducated worker from Siberia who was determined to expose the injustices he saw in the camps; that Daniel put Marchenko in touch with Larisa after his release from prison; that Larisa, 10 years older than Marchenko, welcomed Marchenko into her Moscow circle where he wrote his prison memoir, "My Testimony"; that they were soon separated by arrest and exile, only to meet again in Siberia, where they were married in 1971.

In person, I found that this "Lara" and her husband bore no resemblance to the romantic protagonists of "Dr. Zhivago," with whom I had somehow identified them. Shabby clothes, missing teeth and the sallow complexions that tell of deep-seated illness revealed the world of poverty and hardship to which they had been consigned in the provinces outside of Moscow. Unhappy and self-conscious, they remained apart from the festive reception -- stunned, perhaps, by the lavish food; aware, of course, of the KGB threat outside the door. Their presence was a grim warning to the other guests of a fate that each was tempting.

And what has been the fate of our guests in the year and a half since that Moscow party? Andrei Sakharov, then thought to be "untouchable" was deported from Moscvow to the closed city of Gorky where he must remain in unremitting isolation. Lev and Raya Kopelev, Vasily and Maya Aksyonov, and Vladimir and Irina Voinovich are now in the West, the Kopelevs and Aksyonovs stripped of their Soviet citizenship. Pyotr Yegides has emigrated to Paris. Georgi Vladimov suffered a heart attack shortly after interrogation by the KGB. Viktor Erofeyev, Vladimir Kornilov, Semyon Lipkin, Inna Lisnyanskaya, Yevgeny Popov and Feliks Svetov have either resigned or been expelled from the Writers Union, thus barred from any literary work. Yuri Druzhnikov has become a non-person, waiting for a visa that does not come.

And now Anatoly Marchenko, who has already served 15 years in camps and exile, faces the threat of yet another long sentence, such as those still being served by Mykola Rudenko, Viktor Nekipelov and many other Soviet writers.

It is against this literary backdrop that the Third Moscow International Book Fair, dedicated to peace and progress, will open.