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Volume 1 of the gripping epic masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society Volume 1 of the gripping epic masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society


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Volume 1 of the gripping epic masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society Volume 1 of the gripping epic masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society

30 review for The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II

  1. 5 out of 5

    Buck

    I went for a walk this afternoon, strolling around the unfamiliar student district near Chosun University. It was pleasant just to be out and about, looking at stuff, breathing in air lightly spiced with the peculiar sewage-and-market smells of urban Korea. As I often do, I stopped off at a café, where I sat and dicked around on my iPad for an hour. Then I came home and put on a load of laundry. And that was about it. Is my itinerary of any conceivable interest to anyone? Hardly. But listen now: I went for a walk this afternoon, strolling around the unfamiliar student district near Chosun University. It was pleasant just to be out and about, looking at stuff, breathing in air lightly spiced with the peculiar sewage-and-market smells of urban Korea. As I often do, I stopped off at a café, where I sat and dicked around on my iPad for an hour. Then I came home and put on a load of laundry. And that was about it. Is my itinerary of any conceivable interest to anyone? Hardly. But listen now: in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, it’s recorded that a certain Cheka interrogator used to line up naked prisoners, make them bend over, and then deliver flying ‘football kicks’ to their exposed testicles. Solzhenitsyn says the men usually passed out from the pain. I don’t know if there’s a lesson here, other than the usual one about the everlasting shittiness of our species. But I choose to take a very simple message away from this story: any day on which your testicles are not being used for soccer practice is probably, on the whole, a pretty good one. That may sound horribly flippant, but Solzhenitsyn himself makes a similar point elsewhere in the book, claiming that it was precisely his years in the camps that gave him access to the miracle of normalcy, of mundanity. So coming back to my blah, unblogworthy day: this quotidian bullshit—wandering around, drinking coffee, downloading sitcoms from iTunes—this is what it’s supposed to be like. This is fucking felicity. That vague, low-level dread you feel is just the background hum of a healthy, contented existence. Hmm. The phrase ‘count your blessings’ seems to hover here. Have I just taken the scenic route to a cliché? Looks that way. I need to read more Kierkegaard.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Heath

    One of the most compelling non-fiction texts I've ever read. I naively picked this up after reading One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch thinking it would be a longer version of a similar concept. Instead, it turns out this mighty work is half well-researched investigation into the processing of Soviet political prisoners and half personal account of the author's own experience in the "sewage-waste disposal" that led to the gulag. I'll concede that Solzhenitsyn's personal accounts are the rea One of the most compelling non-fiction texts I've ever read. I naively picked this up after reading One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch thinking it would be a longer version of a similar concept. Instead, it turns out this mighty work is half well-researched investigation into the processing of Soviet political prisoners and half personal account of the author's own experience in the "sewage-waste disposal" that led to the gulag. I'll concede that Solzhenitsyn's personal accounts are the real treasure here. He masterfully weaves his own story into the larger picture leaving no one to possibly mistake this for a vanity project. This is material is detailed, comprehensive, and utterly captivating - even though it carries many Russian idiosyncrasies. Finally, I'd like to add that I spent most of February on this book, thinking there is no better time to read about the Siberian prison system than slugging through my own wintry prison everyday. As I was conducting my normal post-reading research, I happened to discover that my edition of the book only contains the first two volumes of the Gulag Archipelago. Apparently, there are several more volumes! I thought I had accomplished something! It was then that I finally understood the plight of the poor zek who thinks the transit system is the height of his suffering. "In camp, it will be...worse."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Whitaker

    This work is not simply a testament and memorial to the victims of the Gulag, it is also a testament to Solzhenitsyn's courage and righteous anger. That he was once a victim of Gulag himself only underlines that courage, for he could easily have gone back in again for writing this testimonial. And while current figures (1.5 – 2 million) for the numbers of those who died in the Gulag are much less than those estimated by Solzhenitsyn in this book, it still boggles the imagination to think that, a This work is not simply a testament and memorial to the victims of the Gulag, it is also a testament to Solzhenitsyn's courage and righteous anger. That he was once a victim of Gulag himself only underlines that courage, for he could easily have gone back in again for writing this testimonial. And while current figures (1.5 – 2 million) for the numbers of those who died in the Gulag are much less than those estimated by Solzhenitsyn in this book, it still boggles the imagination to think that, as many words that this three volume work contains, they still do not equal the number of people who died in the Gulag. The three volumes take the reader sequentially through the suffering imposed on these victims. The first book takes you from the dreaded midnight knock on the door; through to the arrest, the interrogation, and the sentence; and ends with the transport to the Gulag itself. The second book details the life of suffering in the Gulag, and we hear accounts from all sides: the men, women, and children(!!??) who were its victims; the stoolies and trusties, who sold out to the regime in order to survive; he even has one chapter on the guards. The last book sets out escape attempts, rebellions, and finally exile at the end of sentence, for it turns out that release did not mean a return to normal life but being shoved into further punishment. The darkest heart of the book is the constant reminder that people did this to people. It wasn't just the guards and officials that heaped suffering and death on so many, it was the rest of the population that was either content to ignore the massive cruelty being perpetrated in their name or too afraid to protest for fear that they would be next. Solzhenitsyn excoriates himself and his compatriots for their self-satisfied cowardice and smugness, all too sure that it couldn't happen to them until it did. It's depressing and terrifying to read the reaction of those directly involved in the system towards Solzhenitsyn's publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich . How they bristled, convinced to their very core that what they did was right. And that's probably the greatest tragedy of all: in the name of the greater good, convinced of our own purity, we can be so ready to perpetrate the greatest evils. Other than historical interest, what reason can one have to read this work? Well, I come back to it being a testament and memorial to the suffering of Gulag's victims. You hear their voices here in this work as Solzhenitsyn quotes, cites, and refers liberally to their stories. However, for an even more compelling reason, at least for me, I come back to those who looked away or who actively wielded the lash. It was for the reminder that I too can be just as guilty of self-satisfied smugness, and for the warning that it is only too easy for me to condemn those I despise. For more than anything else, this book must serve to warn each of us of this danger or we will live to see the Gulag's savagery repeated again and again.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    "What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I'll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enou "What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I'll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don't claw at your insides. If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart - and prize above all else in the world those who love you and wish you well." This book has given me gratitude far more than I could have known before starting it. Should you be thinking of reading this work or find it appealing, don't hesitate. Read it. It is powerful. Written by a man who was destined to write it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s work is the living monument to decades of unimaginable Russian miseries, which echo even unto this day, sadly. What The Gulag Archipelago lacks in poetic magic, it more than makes up for as a remarkable chronicle to the boundaries of the human condition along several dimensions. I’m looking forward to the next volume.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Virgil

    This is not an easy read, and nor was it ever meant to be. It was originally written in Russian for Russians, and the odd sensibilities and colloquialisms that irritate many of my fellow Anglophones reflect this fact. It's extremely dense, and I probably won't get to the other four parts in the near future. However, anyone with an interest in the history of Communism, the Soviet Union, or political repression in general should read it. Yes, it's tedious, and it is tough going if you've never tak This is not an easy read, and nor was it ever meant to be. It was originally written in Russian for Russians, and the odd sensibilities and colloquialisms that irritate many of my fellow Anglophones reflect this fact. It's extremely dense, and I probably won't get to the other four parts in the near future. However, anyone with an interest in the history of Communism, the Soviet Union, or political repression in general should read it. Yes, it's tedious, and it is tough going if you've never taken a course in Russian or Soviet history (you quickly discover that the glossary in back exists for a reason). However, if you manage to finish, you'll know more than you could ever imagine on the subject, and be left with a chilling knowledge of how ordinary, good people subject themselves to tyranny and become participants in this vicious system. Considering how difficult it was for Solzhenitzyn to research publish this book, I can understand why he chose to cram as much information as possible in the text. As he says, he felt the responsibility to speak not only for himself, but also for the millions not living and otherwise silenced. The vast scale of the entire "Gulag Archipelago" tells much about how seriously Solzhenitzyn took this responsibility.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago: A Literary Investigation I-II. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974 [1973]. Few books are written with raw, electric energy. Solzhenitsyn’s work can only be labeled as a testimony to the 20th century and its postmodern politics. His work is a triumph of the human spirit. As is commonly noted of classics, this book is quoted yet rarely read. You will see blue-pilled virtue cons quote it about “human dignity” (and liberals ignore it altogether), bu Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago: A Literary Investigation I-II. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974 [1973]. Few books are written with raw, electric energy. Solzhenitsyn’s work can only be labeled as a testimony to the 20th century and its postmodern politics. His work is a triumph of the human spirit. As is commonly noted of classics, this book is quoted yet rarely read. You will see blue-pilled virtue cons quote it about “human dignity” (and liberals ignore it altogether), but few will follow his reasoning out (and definitely shy away from what he says about Churchills). I don’t think even Solzhenitsyn anticipated how accurate his words would describe 21st century social science, particularly “social engineering.” Social engineering is when a scientific and/or ruling elite engage in various practices to “shock” a people, thus manipulating them towards a pre-planned goal. He gives numerous examples [people not accused of anything were arrested] simply to terrorize or wreak vengeance on a military enemy or population (Solzhenitsyn, I:29). In the rear the first wartime wave was for spreading rumors and panic…”This was just a trial of bloodletting in order to maintain a general state of panic and tension” (78). “All that was required in order to heighten the general consciousness was to arrest a certain percentage” (82). I should probably clarify one point. You might see well-meaning authors describe the above as “The Hegelian Dialectic.” It is nothing of the sort. Hegel didn’t believe in such a dialectic. For him every thesis contains its own antithesis. Hegel wasn’t saying that we should create a problem in order to deliver our pre-planned solution. That’s what the Deep State does, but that’s not what Hegel said. We might be tempted to say that the Soviets elites are simply stupid. There is some plausibility to that. Most Communists are stupid. But I think it is deeper. They are engaged in social alchemy. They are “changing” a population from leaden kulak into golden proletariat. They aren’t stupid. They are quite shrewd. On How to Survive the GULAG “From the moment you go to prison you must put your past firmly behind you…”From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me” (130). In other words, a strong doctrine of man’s soul. AS neatly interweaves doctrines of man’s soul combined with what Gulag does to you. Although he likely doesn’t intend this, it is a good illustration of the mind-body problem. The Bluecaps The Soviet elite also adopted the motto of the criminal underworld, in which they would say to one another, “You today; [perhaps] me tomorrow” (145). One danger, perhaps the main danger AS warned about in all of his works was ideology. Ideology is what separates the common criminal from the diabolical evil-doer. The criminal knows he is wrong. The Deep State agent has convinced himself that he is doing the Good. As he notes, “The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology” (176). As concludes with a chilling observation: “Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life….But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains” (177). That Spring AS rightly notes Winston Churchill’s treachery: “He turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them, he also handed over wagonloads of old people, women, and children who did not want to return to their native Cossack rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths” (259-260). In a moving, heart-breaking footnote, AS comments (I must quote the whole note in full so it may sit in judgment upon the Allied Mythology), “This surrender was an act of double-dealing consistent with the spirit of traditional English diplomacy. The heart of the matter was that the Cossacks were determined to fight to the death, or to cross the ocean, all the way to Paraguay or Indochina if they had to . . . anything rather than surrender alive. Therefore, the English proposed, first, that the Cossacks give up their arms on the pretext of replacing them with standardized weapons. Then the officers —without the enlisted men—were summoned to a supposed conference on the future of the army in the city of Judenburg in the English occupation zone. But the English had secretly turned the city over to the Soviet armies the night before. Forty busloads of officers, all the way from commanders of companies on up to General Krasnov himself, crossed a high viaduct and drove straight down into a semicircle of Black Marias, next to which stood convoy guards with lists in their hands. The road back was blocked by Soviet tanks. The officers didn't even have anything with which to shoot themselves or to stab themselves to death, since their weapons had been taken away. They jumped from the viaduct onto the paving stones below. Immediately afterward, and just as treacherously, the English turned over the rank-and-file soldiers by the train- load—pretending that they were on their way to receive new weapons from their commanders. In their own countries Roosevelt and Churchill are honored as embodiments of statesmanlike wisdom. To us, in our Russian prison conversations, their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly obvious. How could they, in their decline from 1941 to 1945, fail to secure any guarantees whatever of the independence of Eastern Europe? How could they give away broad regions of Saxony and Thuringia in exchange for the preposterous toy of a four-zone Berlin, their own future Achilles' heel? And what was the military or political sense in their surrendering to destruction at Stalin's hands hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender? They say it was the price they paid for Stalin's agreeing to enter the war against Japan. With the atom bomb already in their hands, they paid Stalin for not refusing to occupy Manchuria, for strengthening Mao Tse-tung in China, and for giving Kim II Sung control of half Korea! What bankruptcy of political thought! And when, subsequently, the Russians pushed out Mikolajczyk, when Benes and Masaryk came to their ends, when Berlin was blockaded, and Budapest flamed and fell silent, and Korea went up in smoke, and Britain's Conservatives fled from Suez, could one really believe that those among them with the most accurate memories did not at least recall that episode of the Cossacks? The Law as a Child AS notes that a dialectic functioned on the people during this time: “And in the end, the members of the intelligentsia accepted it, too, cursing their eternal thoughtlessness, their eternal duality, their eternal spinelessness” (328). The Law Becomes a Man AS surveys a number of key trials between church and Soviet, and notes a number of tactical blunders by the former. The Law Matures In these chapters on the Law “growing,” AS notes since there isn’t a stable Law, then there isn’t stable justice. Soviet Justice is quite consistent in this regard, as seen here: “For a thousand years prosecutors and accusers had never even imagined that the fact of arrest might in itself be a proof of guilt. If the defendants were innocent, then why had they been arrested” (394)? When one is done reading this work, you really can't say too much more. Perhaps something like what Wittgenstein said, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Arhondi

    Even for someone familiarized with the era and events, this book has been one of the most difficult reading experiences of the past years. Yet, one should push through and read all of it, in all its gore. We must never forget these events that shaped human history and influence it today - we must look at it straight in the eye and make sure we don't repeat this. A requiem for human pain and endurance in the face of complete absurdity and an ode to the spirit, that strives to be free even in the Even for someone familiarized with the era and events, this book has been one of the most difficult reading experiences of the past years. Yet, one should push through and read all of it, in all its gore. We must never forget these events that shaped human history and influence it today - we must look at it straight in the eye and make sure we don't repeat this. A requiem for human pain and endurance in the face of complete absurdity and an ode to the spirit, that strives to be free even in the worst of circumstances. A testimony like very few you can read and experience.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Antof9

    A story I've told more than a few times: when Mr. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, I thought that an appropriate time to read this book. So I took it with me on a business trip (I found a receipt in the book from 8/19/2008) and read quite a bit of it with much interest. I was so wrapped up in the book, in fact, that I was surprised when I felt the plane begin to slow down. "Could we already be to Newark? Gosh, that seemed like a short trip." In fact, when I looked out the window, we were slowing down A story I've told more than a few times: when Mr. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, I thought that an appropriate time to read this book. So I took it with me on a business trip (I found a receipt in the book from 8/19/2008) and read quite a bit of it with much interest. I was so wrapped up in the book, in fact, that I was surprised when I felt the plane begin to slow down. "Could we already be to Newark? Gosh, that seemed like a short trip." In fact, when I looked out the window, we were slowing down over Chicago. We flew out over Lake Michigan (I was convinced the pilot wanted to crash the plane in an unpopulated area) and circled all the way up to Milwaukee. Turns out we were burning up fuel before an emergency landing with more emergency vehicles than I have ever seen at a single airport. I knew it was scary when the man next to me pulled out his BlackBerry, turned it on (not even trying to hide it), and sent an "I love you" message to his wife and kids. In the end, we landed safely, but I have learned that an emergency landing does not make for calm. And sadly, it turned me off this book. I've had it on my "currently reading" list ever since then, and from time to time picked it up to read a page or two, but then put it down due to lack of interest. And here's the thing about me (for which my friend Karm said I need counselling): there are some books I Just. Will. Not. Stop. Reading. For one thing, I was halfway through it. And I had liked (?) what I had read up until the point I thought I was going to die. For another thing, I subscribe to the theory that some books and movies are just important. You know? It's just important that we read them - to know, to learn ... so we don't forget, and always remember. I call these books "principle books". And so it was for all these reasons (and more) that I thought I should finish this. I mean, these people lived and died in the Gulag, for crying out loud. Certainly I could read about it in my comfy chair in my comfy home. So I thought that once I finally finished, my book review would literally be "I'm done!" Or I might possibly write a few words on people who say "The Ukraine" vs. "Ukraine" (this book says "The Ukraine" but when my parents lived there, they were taught "Ukraine", and at book club the other night, one of the girls brilliantly deduced that it used to be a region, and this was probably written during that time; hence "the"). One other thing to fill a book review -- a word that neither Google nor my dictionary recognized! I even blogged about "gaybisty" here (note to self: when you come across a word you don't recognize, check the translator's notes at the back of the book first). Anyway, I hadn't marked anything in the book (other than "gaybisty") of note for a review until I got to this text: Let history say how true or untrue that reproach is. However, no one paid for hunger strikes so much and so grievously as the Trotskyites. (We will come to their hunger strikes and their strikes in camps in Part III.) ... and all I could think was, "despite your brilliantly worded 'teaser', I'm still not reading the rest of this! When I'm done with this book, I'm DONE!" But something happened shortly after that. I became interested again. I'm as surprised as you are! But I did become more invested in the book. I'll never say I loved it, or foist it on someone by telling them they must read it, but I made my peace with it. The surprising part about becoming interested in it again is that I then -- as per usual -- started marking spots I wanted to quote later. In discussing the prisoner-transport convoys, how people were divided up, etc., he makes this observation (which I have no idea if it is true, but nonetheless is something to ponder): "After all, was it because Pontius Pilate wanted to humiliate him that Christ was crucified between two thieves? It just happened to be crucifixion day that day -- and there was only one Golgotha, and time was short. And so he was numbered with the transgressors." In the discussion of hiding large groups of people from those not imprisoned, I found this passage extremely moving:The preparation of the train has been completed -- and ahead lies the complicated combat operation of loading the prisoners into the cars. At this point there are two important and obligatory objectives: 1. to conceal the loading from ordinary citizens 2. to terrorize the prisoners To conceal the loading from the local population was necessary because approximately a thousand people were being loaded on the train simultaneously (at least twenty-five cars), and this wasn't your little group from a Stolypin that could be led right past the townspeople. Everyone knew of course, that arrests were being made every day and every hour, but no one was to be horrified by the sight of large numbers of them together. In Orel in 1938 you could hardly hide the fact that there was no home in the city where there hadn't been arrests, and weeping women in their peasant carts blocked the square in front of the Orel Prison ... But you don't need to show our Soviet people an entire trainload of them collected in one day. And then there is a simple quote in the midst of the description of people wanting to get from the train (miserable) to the camp (surely it will be better!): "A human being is all hope and impatience." Loved that! I follow that with one of the most sad quotes in the book. He is talking about a group of prisoners from Minusinsk - he doesn't/can't even identify the year more than it was sometime in the 1940s, and he describes them having been deprived of fresh air for a whole year ... followed by being forced to walk in formation for FIFTEEN miles on foot to Abakan. He says, "About a dozen of them died along the way. And no one is ever going to write a great novel about it, not even one chapter" Because (and this breaks my heart): if you live in a graveyard, you can't weep for everyone. So now I'm done -- finally -- and honestly? Even though I said I wasn't going to read volume or part III or whatever it's called, I might. I'm glad to have read this, and probably the biggest surprise was his sarcastic sense of humor. But now I'm done and I'd be lying if I didn't say I was THRILLED!

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is the kind of book that is talked about, and quoted more often than it is read. In God's providence, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and spent years in the Gulag. What miserable irony that a man of Solzhenitsyn's literary talent spent time in the Gulag allowing him to expose the horrors of Soviet communism to the world. This book is an important testament to the wicked ideology of communism. It is clear from this first volume alone that Soviet communism was a far greater evil than the Nazism of H This is the kind of book that is talked about, and quoted more often than it is read. In God's providence, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and spent years in the Gulag. What miserable irony that a man of Solzhenitsyn's literary talent spent time in the Gulag allowing him to expose the horrors of Soviet communism to the world. This book is an important testament to the wicked ideology of communism. It is clear from this first volume alone that Soviet communism was a far greater evil than the Nazism of Hitler. The Soviet system idolized collective humanity and the result was a system that dehumanized individual human beings. There are two additional books which I hope to read in the coming year. I am grateful that a man with Solzhenitsyn's talents lived through the Gulag in order to preserve its memory for future generations. May it be a testament to the evil in the hearts of all men.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Peterson

    20 Jan 2018 I read this about 1973-4. What an incredible and incredibly depressing history of the Soviet Gulag. Evil Empire shattering documentation. It was history in less than 20 years!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Clif

    Prison in a civilized society should be limited to setting apart those who would be a threat to others if allowed freedom. They should not be deprived beyond this. There should be regular meals, exercise and diversions such as TV and reading. Humanity should not end at a prison gate because a prisoner is still human. Though there are countries that practice this, for most societies prison is a place for punishment right up to torture regardless of all the evidence that it is counterproductive. Ri Prison in a civilized society should be limited to setting apart those who would be a threat to others if allowed freedom. They should not be deprived beyond this. There should be regular meals, exercise and diversions such as TV and reading. Humanity should not end at a prison gate because a prisoner is still human. Though there are countries that practice this, for most societies prison is a place for punishment right up to torture regardless of all the evidence that it is counterproductive. Right now, the United States has a record percentage of its population in prison after a determined drive by those eager to punish those who behave in ways that offend society at large, those who have been caught with drugs being particular targets. Objections are always being made that U.S. prisons are too comfortable, that there should be more deprivation. Let's make them pay! It is important to read The Gulag Archipelago because it shows how far a country can go in punishing people not only for physical crimes such as burglary and assault, but for expressing objections to the government or powerful people within it. It goes beyond that to condemnation merely for being accused of something regardless of what a person has actually said or done. Anyone can be put in the gulag for virtually any reason and without any chance of a fair trial, often with no defense allowed or no trial at all. At the top of it all for many years was Joseph Stalin who could condemn anyone and did not hesitate to put hundreds of thousands away. As President Trump speaks of the press as "the enemy of the people" it is chilling to know that this accusation is exactly what many were imprisoned for in the gulag. If so many people are imprisoned then why not have them work on national projects for no pay? In fact it was to create work camps that the gulag was established. Why spend money on food and shelter for them? Cram people into work camps where labor has no reward, shelter is in rooms jammed with filthy bedbug ridden bunks and you can easily die from disease or malnutrition. Need to go to the bathroom? Only once a day. The only difference between the gulag and Hitler's concentration camps was that the latter had death for the prisoners as a goal in itself with no pretense of a term that could be served out. As a survivor of eleven years in the gulag, Solzhenitsyn wrote this book to document the details of the system. There is more than enough physical and psychological agony in this book to make the reader wonder how it could be borne. What the author reveals is a new appreciation of life that can never be known to those in freedom. With everything denied, cruelty from the guards daily and no choice about what one can do, all that remains is the interaction with fellow prisoners as a source of mental stimulation and even joy. What are you in for? What is your life story? Do you know Ivan Z, Vladimir X or Boris Y? Do you know anything about some field of knowledge? Tell me all about it! Let me teach you what I know in exchange. This humanity stripped of all pretension is what keeps the prisoners alive in their hopeless situation. I once worked with a Russian emigre who told me of his life in the USSR not as a prisoner, but simply as a citizen who, like everyone else, had few material things and was powerless to change things for the better. He told me that the joy in life came from community, from small gatherings of friends who would talk late into the night about anything and everything, each giving the other a sense of value and respect. He spoke of this bond with such affection, such nostalgia, that I couldn't help but envy him this sense of life so close to others that in our individual lives of material plenty in America we do not experience. This experience of joy in absolute adversity is the soul of this book. Is there something about the Russians? If you have read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky you know their unparalleled ability to examine the human heart. Solzhenitsyn follows on that path. For all that we praise individualism in America, this book tells us that stripped of everything we believe we must have to be happy, salvation can be found in the other.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pinkyivan

    This is the review for only the first volume, I'll review the other two. It's hard to chose a starting point for this review as it is one of the most interesting literary experiments I know of. It is a mixture of Solzhenitsyn's own thoughts on various subjects which are not quite philosophy, but are certainly philosophical, his reflections on what it was like going through the process of being sent to a gulag (by the end he is still in a transitory prison) and a detailed history of the Soviet ju This is the review for only the first volume, I'll review the other two. It's hard to chose a starting point for this review as it is one of the most interesting literary experiments I know of. It is a mixture of Solzhenitsyn's own thoughts on various subjects which are not quite philosophy, but are certainly philosophical, his reflections on what it was like going through the process of being sent to a gulag (by the end he is still in a transitory prison) and a detailed history of the Soviet judicial system. It's comparable to 2666 in a way, where seemingly endless mock trials and various other situations related to how to get to a gulag. And there are many. They almost become dreary, again similar to Bolano, but instead of a detached tone you always get his humorous comments on completely absurd events which creates a dark comedy out of the undoubtedly darkest time in human history. Reading authors like Kafka or Dick who lived in very ordered and mostly fair systems and being as pessimistic as they were almost seems like a joke, compared to Gulag Archipelago, where all the absurdity you can find in those two is recorded, plain and simple, as another record in history. 30000 Czech were sent to the gulag because you couldn't really prove there weren't any spies amongst them, hundreds of engineers were executed because they held the opinion that the railroad cannot really carry more than x tons or because they built high ceilings for factories to make the conditions more humane, the leader of a factory who betrayed the Union because he simply couldn't imagine a communist economy winning against the Germans. Of course some 150 pages are devoted to ways of torture, which went from good cop bad cop, water torture, sleep deprivation, stuffing 100 or so people to 35 m^2, giving water only 4 times a week because that way you wouldn't have to take them to the toilet, to simply crushing their testicles. Human fates are told, even a lot of very simple, but touching or saddening interactions between fellow inmates, and most importantly, the effects of a purely secular ideology are shown. In short, this can be described as an epic, an achievement in all areas a writer can hope to touch, paralleled by very few authors.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anastasija

    This book should be the bible for those who keep praising Soviet Union. It should finally open their eyes. And if this book wouldn't be able to do it, I'm afraid, nothing would. This book should be the bible for those who keep praising Soviet Union. It should finally open their eyes. And if this book wouldn't be able to do it, I'm afraid, nothing would.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    This might be the best book written in the twentieth century. It is, of course, an important historical document. Its six books one by one deal with the entire experience and history of the GULAG system; not just in terms of events but in the effect words and concepts have on reality. Here is where this book transcends history and rises to greatness. Solzhenitsyn uses the GULAG system to define the moral bankruptcy of the society and the philosophy that produced this nightmare, barbed-wire world This might be the best book written in the twentieth century. It is, of course, an important historical document. Its six books one by one deal with the entire experience and history of the GULAG system; not just in terms of events but in the effect words and concepts have on reality. Here is where this book transcends history and rises to greatness. Solzhenitsyn uses the GULAG system to define the moral bankruptcy of the society and the philosophy that produced this nightmare, barbed-wire world. He examines the hypocrisy, lies and empty slogans of Soviet Socialism and how their application destroyed the soul of a great people. This is literature. It is an intensely human book. The tiny details all relate to the vast whole.The amazing thing about this book is how some of the people were NOT crushed by the system and found an amazing spiritual strength amongst the horror and the lies. People who have grown up in a society where there is an objective moral code and the rule of law is respected have trouble imagining the depths that everyday people can achieve in a world where those things dont exist. As our society moves closer to a modernist, spiritually dead determinism and moves farther each day away from our humanistic traditions this book might come in handy as a survival guide. There are three volumes in the set. I couldnt find the other two of this edition on Amazon or Goodreads but when I do I'll post them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra Kay Silva

    I started reading this series after a verbal altercation with an individual over my American upbringing and challenged notions about the Soviet Union and its actuality. As someone who does not like being challenged on their assumptions unfairly, I took up the challenge of reading the canon of the Gulgag in an attempt to gain an awareness of something that apparently I was fundamentally missing. Oh had sadly true that statement is. How fatefully unaware my assumptions regarding humanity tyranny a I started reading this series after a verbal altercation with an individual over my American upbringing and challenged notions about the Soviet Union and its actuality. As someone who does not like being challenged on their assumptions unfairly, I took up the challenge of reading the canon of the Gulgag in an attempt to gain an awareness of something that apparently I was fundamentally missing. Oh had sadly true that statement is. How fatefully unaware my assumptions regarding humanity tyranny and personal subjugation truly were. This book truly changed my life, my political leanings, my assumptions about humans, justice and capacity. Were it not so. May all the lives lost in this machine of death be remembered.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    One of the most intensely human books I have read in a long time - which is the exact opposite of what I had expected. Why? Because this is a treatise cataloguing a crushing system of tyranny and brutality. It painstakingly details systematic DEhumanization... AND YET what the book is really about are the zeks within the system and their ability to find spiritual strength and dignity in the abyss. In the utter ABYSS. Richly illustrated, brilliantly written. It is a full, captivating, meticulously One of the most intensely human books I have read in a long time - which is the exact opposite of what I had expected. Why? Because this is a treatise cataloguing a crushing system of tyranny and brutality. It painstakingly details systematic DEhumanization... AND YET what the book is really about are the zeks within the system and their ability to find spiritual strength and dignity in the abyss. In the utter ABYSS. Richly illustrated, brilliantly written. It is a full, captivating, meticulously researched memoir. This is the very best art. Also, this was only volume one of three and it got wildly good at the end. I'm not stopping.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Xander

    Recently I read some article in which the author stated that in order to comprehend the twentieth century, one has to read three authors: Michel Houellebecq, George Orwell, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Houellebecq, a contemporary French writer, writes primarily about the emptiness of Western society and the increasing influence of Islamic norms and values in the West. Orwell wrote about any social injustice he encountered: the rise of fascism and national socialism, the economic exploitation of h Recently I read some article in which the author stated that in order to comprehend the twentieth century, one has to read three authors: Michel Houellebecq, George Orwell, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Houellebecq, a contemporary French writer, writes primarily about the emptiness of Western society and the increasing influence of Islamic norms and values in the West. Orwell wrote about any social injustice he encountered: the rise of fascism and national socialism, the economic exploitation of huge masses of labourers in the UK and France, but mostly about communism – the totalitarian control, by the state apparatus, of society, in which the life of each individual is constantly monitored, controlled and corrected. But whereas both Houellebecq and (in a lesser degree) Orwell wrote novels about contemporary events and trends, only Solzhenitsyn wrote about actual events. As a frontline soldier serving Russia on the Eastern Front in World War II, he was caught in 1945 by the Soviet secret police; subsequently imprisoned and tortured; and in the end sent to the Gulag for ten years. His crime? Writing letters to a colleague soldier about how Joseph Stalin was terrorizing the Russian people. When he got finally got out alive – and most of the people sent to the Gulags didn’t live to see this event – Solzhenitsyn decided to write a book about his experiences in the Gulag while at the same time tracing the history of the Gulags by using all the evidence, personal histories and anecdotes he could get his hands on. In the end, this project turned out to be so huge, that he had to publish it in three volumes. The Gulag Archipelago spans 2000+ pages and is a huge investment for the reader. But every minute spent on this book is worth it – it is a monumental work through and through. Solzhenitsyn’s approach to the book is to chop up his own personal experiences chronologically into distinct themes; and then devote whole chapters to a particular theme. His personal story, surprisingly, doesn’t take up a lot of space in the book (at least the first volume) – he uses most of the book to give factual analyses, historical sketches, the personal anecdotes of other prisoners, and even naming the accomplices of the murderous Soviet regime. The general history is as follows. In Tsarist Russia there always had been a hard prison regime, which could include torture, hard labour and exile to remote (and harsh) regions. The main point to note is that in Tsarist Russia political prisoners – mostly intellectuals and aristocrats threatening to overthrow the state by spreading new ideas – were treated rather lightly and were mostly separated from the common criminals. Then Russia entered World War I, causing much death, destruction, food shortages, and a bad press for the failing state. At the same time, Russia only recently (in the nineteenth century) officially ended serfdom, and now, in 1917, most farmers owned their own plot of land and farmed for subsistence, while selling all the surpluses in the towns and cities. These two developments combined when Marxist ideologues – most of them living in exile abroad – re-entered Russia with the help of Germany. Lenin, the political opportunist par excellence, used the civil unrest and the wish to sign a Peace Treaty with Germany, to start a civil war. Then, in 1917, during the February Revolution, the Tsarist Regime was toppled; and liberals, socialists, landed nobility and the army got together and formed a Provisional Government, which should, ultimately, reform Russia. But compromises and bourgeois influence were too much for Lenin and his communists to take, so they decided to overthrow this government as well: enter the October Revolution. Russia fell apart in huge chunks of rivalling regions, each with their own armies and international sponsors. This Russian civil war started in 1917 and only ended in 1922 when Lenin and his communists had defeated all their enemies and took possession of the power apparatus of the state. It is interesting to note here that one of the communists’ minor leader, a certain Georgian church boy-turned-bandit, who robbed banks with criminals to finance the war against the other non-communist factions during the Civil War. This man called himself Stalin and was as big an opportunist, and even more cruel than, Lenin. When the communists became the ruling force of Russia, they instated the Soviet Union. Lenin quickly set to work to write a new Law Code, which introduced a whole new legal system. The communists had already started to mop up all influential persons and fighting forces of their former rival factions, and the new Law Code introduced by Lenin in 1922 was the official start sign for endless waves of purges in which tens of millions of people would be instantaneously removed from this life or else be forced to work themselves to death in the hard labour camps – the Gulags – wish sprang up like mushrooms in the twenties and eventually covered all of the Soviet Union. The twenties saw the mass persecution and destruction of the intelligentsia, the religious, the highly influential social democrats (Mensheviks), the former enemies, the old Tsarist servants, engineers, farmers who resisted the collectivization of their (recently acquired) landed property, and already huge numbers of labourers. Then in the thirties, when Stalin felt himself well entrenched in power, the process was sped up: the entire old party elite which had established the Soviet Union disappeared into the Gulag system; the Soviet army was purged (right when Hitler was about to strike…); a huge upsurge in arrested farmers and labourers; and basically anyone breathing in the Soviet Union. One could get arrested, rather randomly, on any certain days and one had to live permanently in the fear of living one’s last day. People were taken away by the hundreds each night – and this per village. It is interesting to note here, how Lenin was the inventor of this judicial system of mass executions by concentration camps, but Stalin was the one taking it to a whole new level. Solzhenitsyn somewhere in the book states that by current estimates, about 60 million – 60 million! – people were wiped off the face off the earth during 1918-1956. Contemporary estimates range from 20 million to 60 million, but let’s not make this a factual dispute: the Soviet Union (20-60 million) and Maoist China (100 million!) are among the most criminal regimes ever to have existed on this planet. The numbers are mind boggling and make Hitler pale in comparison. One wonders why we are so occupied with Nazi Germany but almost no nothing about the communist terrors and concentration camps. Solzhenitsyn continuously stresses his own amazement about the Western cultural elites and intellectuals who tried to wipe these atrocities under the carpet. And it’s not like the facts weren’t known at the time: already in the twenties did wester journalist write about mass extrajudicial persecutions, concentration camps and terrorization of society – Orwell knew full well, so did Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell and Friedrich Hayek. But somehow corrupt intellectuals like the ideologues of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse), philosophers like Sartre and Foucault etc. couldn’t set their minds to it. What developed in the 1920’s in the Soviet Union was an intricate, bureaucratic system of sewage disposal, through which wave after wave of prisoners was pumped. Solzhenitsyn comes up with this superb metaphor, and it really describes the whole system as it was: a massive sewage disposal. It is impossible to describe all the intricacies of this system, but it was designed – up to the details – to break down the humanity of the person entering it through insane torture techniques, ridiculously inhumane prison conditions and constant psychological warfare on the prisoner’s mind. After this initial phase, the prisoner was convicted on a trumped-up charge, and then shipped off to regional prison centres – rather more massive depots of starved and tortured human bodies. Then the prisoners were treated even worse than they had to endure in the initial stage. After some time, the prisoner was shipped off once again, per train of per ship, to the most outlying regions of Russia and to work themselves to death in concentration camps. It was calculated that by giving the prisoner one serving of gruel and one cup of water a day, they would be good for three months of labour. By then the prisoner would be dead, at least in theory – many didn’t even survive it for this long. It is illustrative for the murderous Soviet regime to mention ‘just’ three facts. (1) prisoners were really seen as materials for labour, trains were so full that many prisoners died simply by standing for weeks in unheated freight cars. Also, when loaded onto ships, prisoners were lifted into the cargo hold – by the hundreds – by using huge nets. (There are still surviving pictures to be found on the internet of both means of transport, as well as all the torture techniques and camp conditions – I can recommend looking them up and amaze yourself how deep human beings can sink.) (2) The distinction between criminals and political prisoners of old Tsarist Russia was now reversed. Political prisoners were the inexpedient, unwilling ones, and were the lowest class – enemies of the state – there is. Criminals on the other hand – basically all kinds of bandits, murderers, thieves, rapists, rogues – were seen as victims of old Tsarist, bourgeois oppression. They, at least, could be corrected through prison. So we see here the strange situation that the hardest criminals got away with a couple of years prison time in very lenient prison conditions, while the enemies of the state were convicted to serving decades in prison: 10 or 25 years hard labour (i.e. concentration camps) were the norm. Also, throughout the whole prison system, from initial holding cell to death camp, the Soviet state used the criminals to kill, torture and terrorize the enemies of the state. Most of the prison guards were in league with the criminals and used them for personal gain and pleasure – but really, the distinction between Soviet prison guard and criminal is a superficial one anyways. (3) The distinction between the prisoner as victim of the bourgeoisie and the enemy of the state points to another interesting point. When Lenin wrote and instituted his Law Code, he did this with a particular goal in mind. The Soviet Union had to keep up the façade of holding a trial by jury for the accused person and the conviction should be legit. But just as Hitler wrote laws to legitimate the persecution of Jews, the communists wrote laws in order to build up a system of garbage disposal. Run by bureaucrats and civil servants, informed by millions of spies, and operating in order to build roads, canals, cities, produce food and industrial products. All over the backs of millions simple, innocent people. Solzhenitsyn does a superb job to illustrate the hypocrisy of Lenin’s law. According to Lenin, anyone contemplating harming the Soviet Union is eligible to enter the garbage disposal system. And this can be interpreted very widely indeed. Knowing persons who are suspected is a crime; travelling abroad is a crime; living in exile is a crime; not catching production quota is a crime; claiming a train cannot function properly when the official state-produced norms are applied is a crime; even taking some corn from the field to feed your starving little kids is a crime, since the state now misses some ears of corn. It can be rather put very crudely: the Soviet Union – and for that matter all communist regimes worldwide – was a criminal regime, committing genocides (whiping whole peoples of the face off the earth), starving millions of people to death (Staling killed as many Ukranians by starvation as Hitler killed Jews – and before Hitler thought up his own schemes), building a system that was killing off millions of people as efficiently and as brutal as possible. Stalin was a sick mind indeed, and so were all the communists. But just like Hannah Arendt explained in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), there is no such thing as absolute evil – evil is usually rather banal. Eichmann was a simple bureaucrat, trying to make a career within the state. No matter the consequences of your work, your own career is leading. This same idea can be applied – on a massive scale – to the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn beautifully describes how the sewage disposal system – the thousands of prison facilities, the thousands of transport operations, the hundreds of concentration camps – was run by ordinary, opportunistic citizens. Look around you, out of 10 people, 8 will join such a system – even if it’s only out of banal opportunism or sheer survival (rather you than me). But murderous regimes, like Stalin’s, also attract the scum of the earth, and Solzhenitsyn’s stories in Volume 1, of his arrest up to his arrival in the hard labour (i.e. concentration) camp, is one long example of how cruel human beings are attracted to such circumstances and can’t wait to gang rape, crush testicles with boots, beating up prisoners to the point of death, literally drive innocent people insane through confinement. Even though The Gulag Archipelago is a long book – even ‘just Volume 1 covers 650+ pages – I can’t name any book that has impressed me as much as this one. The book isn’t perfect: Solzhenitsyn isn’t the most gifted writer, the book becomes longwinded and repeating at times, some factual analyses are outdated by now, and some of the material is hard to understand for a modern day reader. But nevertheless, Solzhenitsyn is able to draw in the reader from the moment page 1 is opened and his gift for stirring up emotions by his descriptions of horrible events, combined with his sarcastic comments on them, is truly amazing. I read somewhere that The Gulag Archipelago is mandatory reading in the Russian school system – I wish the West would copy this obligation. Most young people (and their professors) look at communism through rosy glasses and this has a devastating influence – still – in the media, politics, education system. Communism is Nazism 2.0, there’s no denying this. Read Solzhenitsyn to understand why. (Note: Volume 1 of The Gulag Archipelago covers the origin of the Gulag system, the development of the Law Code, the arrest, the interrogation, the imprisonment, the conviction, the transport system, the regional prison centres, and basically all the persons and events involved in this first phase of the Gulag system. Volume 2 details the conditions of and life in the Gulag camps. So reading 'just' Volume 1 isn't going to be helpful.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    El

    Sometimes (like today) when I have had a really long day at work, and nothing seems to be quite going my way, or I'm verbally assaulted by one or more parties, or I have to do too much math and my brain melts a little, I think that the idea of being in the Gulag sounds pretty nice right now. Of course I'm not serious, and if you think I am, you shouldn't be reading my reviews. But on days like today where it just doesn't seem like things could get much worse, it's hard not to think of Solzhenitsyn Sometimes (like today) when I have had a really long day at work, and nothing seems to be quite going my way, or I'm verbally assaulted by one or more parties, or I have to do too much math and my brain melts a little, I think that the idea of being in the Gulag sounds pretty nice right now. Of course I'm not serious, and if you think I am, you shouldn't be reading my reviews. But on days like today where it just doesn't seem like things could get much worse, it's hard not to think of Solzhenitsyn and his imprisonment. Sure, I think I have it bad at times, but that's only because I've never been imprisoned in any facility, let alone in the Soviet Gulag. I don't need to read certain books to put things in perspective, but I never turn down an opportunity to look at life through someone else's eyes. What's especially crazy to me is that this volume only contained Parts I and II. There are two other volumes, all of which are of relatively the same length as this first one. It's not so much that they're long, but they're really fucking heavy. You read over 600 pages of eyewitness accounts, personal experiences, trial information, torture techniques, and political savagery, and then tell me what you feel like doing is flying a fucking kite. It's exhausting to read this, and I'm not even halfway through his "literary investigations". This, of course, excites me to no end - there's so much Solzhenitsyn to read! Whee! I've had this with me on the bus, to and from work, on my lunch breaks, and geez. It's amazing I could even muster the strength to get out of bed in the morning. The realization that there are/were people in the world that do/did treat other people in such manners is inexplicable. Additionally crazy to me is that these pages were never meant to be read outside the samizdat. Turns out that the lady Solzhenitsyn entrusted with his work succumbed to authorities and handed it over to them. And then she killed herself because she couldn't live with the guilt of what she had done. Crazy world in which we live. This is powerful stuff, and hard to capture in a review. Solzhenitsyn said it all best; following this review are passages I've been adding as I've read because they impacted me in some way, or I found them especially interesting, of they mentioned works of art that I looked up and wanted to include for reference. I don't know that I can recommend The Gulag Archipelago to everyone - it's not for those with weak stomachs or especially sensitive. Luckily for me I'm not too sensitive and I can read about one getting their balls crushed while eating my lunch. Otherwise I'm not sure I would have made it through. Chapter 3: The Interrogation If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or fourty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the "secret brand"); that a man's genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov's plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums. (p 93) ...until, in the fourth month, all the notebooks of my "War Diary" were cast into the hellish maw of the Lubyanka furnace, where they burst into flame - the red pyre of one more novel which had perished in Russia - and flew out of the highest chimney in black butterflies of soot. (p 136) Chapter 5: First Cell, First Love What is the right course of action if our mother has sold us to the gypsies? No, even worse, thrown us to the dogs? Does she really remain our mother? If a wife has become a whore, are you really still bound to her in fidelity? A Motherland that betrays its soldiers - is that really a Motherland? (p 219-20) Chapter 10: The Law Matures One little note on eight-year-old Zoya Vlasova. She loved her father intensely. She could no longer go to school. (They teased her: "Your papa is a wrecker!" She would get in a fight: "My papa is good!") She lived only one year after the trial. Up to then she had never been ill. During that year she did not once smile; she went about with head hung low, and the old women prophesied: "She keeps looking at the earth; she is going to die soon." She died of inflammation of the brain, and as she was dying she kept calling out: "Where is my papa? Give me my papa!" When we count up the millions of those who perished in the camps, we forget to multiply them by two, by three. (p 431) Chapter 12: Tyurzak When, in 1960, Gennady Smelov, a nonpolitical offender, declared a lengthy hunger strike in the Leningrad prison, the prosecutor went to his cell for some reason (perhaps he was making his regular rounds) and asked him: "Why are you torturing yourself?" And Smelov replied: "Justice is more precious to me than life." This phrase so astonished the prosecutor with its irrelevance that the very next day Smelov was taken to the Leningrad Special Hospital (ie, the insane asylum) for prisoners. And the doctor there told him: "We suspect you may be a schizophrenic." (p 473) Chapter 1 (Part II): The Ships of the Archipelago The painting by Yaroshenko which everyone knows, Life Is Everywhere, shows a fourth-class passenger car re-equipped in every naive fashion for prisoner transport... (p 491) Chapter 3 (Part II): The Slave Caravan In Orel in 1938 you could hardly hide the fact that there was no home in the city where there hadn't been arrests, and weeping women in their peasant carts blocked the square in front of the Orel Prison just as in Surikov's painting, The Execution of the Streltsy. (p 567)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

    Although this was really tough to slog through, by its end, I'm on the edge of my seat to read more. I hadn't known this was a seven part work, encapsuled in three volumes. I agree with another reviewer--it is hard to rate this (volume 1) with a certain number of stars, the implication being that everyone should read it--this is not your pollyanna bedtime story. But it is such an IMPORTANT work. Thank you to those who've translated it and distributed it. I hope all who value the first volume go Although this was really tough to slog through, by its end, I'm on the edge of my seat to read more. I hadn't known this was a seven part work, encapsuled in three volumes. I agree with another reviewer--it is hard to rate this (volume 1) with a certain number of stars, the implication being that everyone should read it--this is not your pollyanna bedtime story. But it is such an IMPORTANT work. Thank you to those who've translated it and distributed it. I hope all who value the first volume go on to learn the rest of--no, the ongoing, story of Russia and its systems. I'm looking for it in AIS's other works. But so far, this first volume is very very timely for our own country's frightening sense of direction. Most moving for me and downright poetic is the passage in the last chapter entitled "From Island to Island" about the rare special-convoy trips between prisons. Special-convoys are hardly "distinguished from free travel. Only a few prisoners are delivered in this way" and only with high-official supersecret authorization. Our prisoner is accompanied by only two jailers, who are actually polite with their threats of shooting if he tries to escape. He is still a closely watched captive accustomed to horrible mind-dimming conditions and treatment, but told suddenly to act naturally (NATURALLY!!) among the throng of the untethered. "If the souls of those who have died sometimes hover among us, see us, easily read in us our trivial concerns, and we fail to see them or guess at their incorporeal presence, then that is what a special-convoy trip is like. You are submerged in the mass of FREEDOM.....you hear strange and insignificant conversations:...some mother-in-law who..does not get along with her daughter-in-law...how someone is in someone else's way in the office.....You listen to all this, and....the true measure of things in the Universe is so clear! [T]hese sinners aren't fated to perceive it. The only one there who is alive, truly alive, is incorporeal you, and all these others are simply mistaken in thinking themselves alive...... an unbridgeable chasm divides you! You cannot cry out to them, nor weep over them, nor shake them by the shoulder: after all, you are a disembodied spirit, you are a ghost, and they are material bodies." What follows is a tragic transformation of a shocking desire--to reach these people, or make known his plight and direction (escape?)--into a dim futility in even considering it, and then to a surreal but understandable homecoming that leaves a hole in my heart. "After spending a few hours among FREE PEOPLE, here is what I feel: My lips are mute; there is no place for me among them; my hands are tied here. I want free speech! I want to go back to my native land! I want to go home to the Archipelago!"

  21. 5 out of 5

    Max McNabb

    This is the book that forced even French intellectuals like Sartre to admit the Soviet dream was a nightmare (though they were quick to rebrand their socialist agenda, concealing it under the guise of postmodernism). Every SJW who has ever marched in a protest under the banner of the hammer and sickle should have their eyelids taped open and be forced to read this unremitting chronicle of horror. Confront them with the evil that the (supposedly) good intentions of socialists unleased on the 20th This is the book that forced even French intellectuals like Sartre to admit the Soviet dream was a nightmare (though they were quick to rebrand their socialist agenda, concealing it under the guise of postmodernism). Every SJW who has ever marched in a protest under the banner of the hammer and sickle should have their eyelids taped open and be forced to read this unremitting chronicle of horror. Confront them with the evil that the (supposedly) good intentions of socialists unleased on the 20th century. And don’t try to pawn it all off on Stalin—the horror began with Lenin. In the west, the Gulag Archipelago brought about a critical reevaluation of Lenin. Most college students won’t read this book—Harry Potter is more their speed—but they should, because it’s an antidote to the neo-Marxist, postmodernist propaganda that’s relentlessly pounded into their skulls on too many campuses. Here Solzhenitsyn speaks of the great wave of kulak resettlement, peasant farmers who were stripped of their land and property, which led to a three-year famine in the cities: “This was the first such experiment—at least in modern history. It was subsequently repeated by Hitler with the Jews…” "It became necessary to rid the villages also of those peasants who had merely manifested an aversion to joining the collective farms, or an absence of inclination for the collective life, which they had never seen with their own eyes, about which they knew nothing, and which they suspected (we now know how well founded their suspicions were) would mean a life of forced labor and famine under the leadership of loafers.” “Beyond this, in every village there were people who in one way or another had personally gotten in the way of the local activists. This was the perfect time to settle accounts with them of jealousy, envy, insult. A new word was needed for all these new victims as a class… podkulachnik — ‘a person aiding the kulaks.’ In other words, I consider you an accomplice of the enemy. And that finishes you! The most tattered landless laborer in the countryside could quite easily be labeled a podkulachnik.”

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Hove

    Good lord this book struck a chord. When you're having a tough time with the current pandemic, read this book and you'll realize things ain't that bad. The sheer depravity of the ruling party in the early 20th-century soviet union will boggle the mind. Good lord this book struck a chord. When you're having a tough time with the current pandemic, read this book and you'll realize things ain't that bad. The sheer depravity of the ruling party in the early 20th-century soviet union will boggle the mind.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Maas

    Solzhenitsyn is a hero for writing this, a hero for all humanity.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    It was just over 10 years ago that I read the abridged version of Solzhenitsyn's, "Gulag Archipelago," and committed to eventually reading the whole thing as I was transfixed by the shortened version of the work. This year I actually will live up to that commitment! Here in the first volume of this Nobel-Prize winning work which Time Magazine dubbed, "The Best Nonfiction book of the 20th Century," the story begins with an appropriate amount of context and background information given to properly It was just over 10 years ago that I read the abridged version of Solzhenitsyn's, "Gulag Archipelago," and committed to eventually reading the whole thing as I was transfixed by the shortened version of the work. This year I actually will live up to that commitment! Here in the first volume of this Nobel-Prize winning work which Time Magazine dubbed, "The Best Nonfiction book of the 20th Century," the story begins with an appropriate amount of context and background information given to properly understand the metamorphosis that took place in Russia/USSR during this time. Beginning with his history in the Russian army as an artillery officer, his subsequent arrest by SMERSH in 1945, and the process by which he was placed into the gulag system; Solzhenitsyn then backtracks a bit to show how it came to be that the absurd laws under which millions were tried, sentenced, and murdered came about both before and during the rule of Lenin and Stalin. Specifically, the pernicious misuse of language, institutionalized paranoia, and the early use of the show-trial to place a communicative stranglehold on the populace became the very foundation of what was later coined as Article 58. The bleakness, distortion of fact, depravity of conditions, and senseless cruelty meted out to those not worshipping the state is then explicitly described through personal experiences and also second hand vignettes from those interviewed for the work. The effect is at once intensely personal and global in its lessons. Many times the so-called, "great books," that are recommended as required reading for all are really just verbose, meretricious works of platitudinal nonsense. This is the opposite, a great work containing many important lessons and a gripping personal narrative of a harrowing experience with the merciless gulag country-within-a-country system. Though it of course seems paradoxical to say so, I am looking forward to continuing this story further.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tanzi

    It's taking me a long time to get through the Gulag Arhcipelago. I have to add a leaven of more cheerful books to sustain me, but that unfortunately makes me feel like I can't keep a very accurate mental picture of the details. Still, when I first opened Volume 1, I couldn't help feeling a thrill of excitement imagining the lightning bolt this book was in its time and how it must have felt to obtain it secretly, read it hurriedly -- and nervously! -- and again pass it on. I have heard, and I bel It's taking me a long time to get through the Gulag Arhcipelago. I have to add a leaven of more cheerful books to sustain me, but that unfortunately makes me feel like I can't keep a very accurate mental picture of the details. Still, when I first opened Volume 1, I couldn't help feeling a thrill of excitement imagining the lightning bolt this book was in its time and how it must have felt to obtain it secretly, read it hurriedly -- and nervously! -- and again pass it on. I have heard, and I believe it's mentioned in the introduction to this edition, that Solzhenitsyn was not always accurate. As a layman reader, I wouldn't have minded knowing merely for information purposes at what exact points he was incorrect, but I don't think anyone would presume to really criticize Solzhenitsyn or this work on that score. It's a book that must be most appreciated in its context. That brings to mind the only other difficulty I encountered with the book, which was that I sometimes couldn't understand Solzhenitsyn's references to people or events that would have been (I assume) common knowledge among his audience at the time. These were infrequent occurrences, though, and didn't impair my overall understanding of the content.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul Szydlowski

    Relentless doesn't begin to describe this book - and this is just Volume I, detailing arrest, trial and transport within the Soviet prison system under Stalin. Beyond the cruel torture tactics, outlined numerically 1 through 21 (or more, perhaps), the capricious reasons behind arrests and sentences and the general misery surrounding this memoir of imprisonment, lies insight into human nature - how a nation can fall prey to the evils of those at the top, the acquiescence of those being ruled and Relentless doesn't begin to describe this book - and this is just Volume I, detailing arrest, trial and transport within the Soviet prison system under Stalin. Beyond the cruel torture tactics, outlined numerically 1 through 21 (or more, perhaps), the capricious reasons behind arrests and sentences and the general misery surrounding this memoir of imprisonment, lies insight into human nature - how a nation can fall prey to the evils of those at the top, the acquiescence of those being ruled and the strength of the human spirit to endure it all. It also gives pause to the idea that those of us in the U.S. are protected from such atrocities because we have our Second Amendment rights to protects us. Many of those imprisoned under Stalin were Red Army soldiers who were fully armed at the time of arrest. Despite a general understanding of the horrors awaiting them, virtually all surrendered without a fight. The author asks why, even of himself. The reasons range from a belief that surrender would put the captive in their captors' good graces to simple despair. There wasn't a general call to arms, just a slow descent into hell. By the time it was time to take up arms, it was too late.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Corinne Wasilewski

    Horrific book, but, important history. My husband, a Pole, is well versed in this period of Soviet history but me, a Canadian, knew nothing. Why is this not taught in school? I haven't even noticed it in my son's university history offerings. Horrific book, but, important history. My husband, a Pole, is well versed in this period of Soviet history but me, a Canadian, knew nothing. Why is this not taught in school? I haven't even noticed it in my son's university history offerings.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    new article: the author who brought down an empire... https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/op... new article: the author who brought down an empire... https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/op...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ady ZYN

    Highly recommended

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This book is without a doubt a classic, and it is one that I have been familiar with for a long time, but which I only recently started reading.  Having heard some of the quotes from this author before and having read them, it was quite interesting to see the context in which they appear, and to see this work as an example of a man trying to come to grips with his own humanity and the inhumanity of his place and time.  Few books are as damning a statement about the immorality of ideologies, espe This book is without a doubt a classic, and it is one that I have been familiar with for a long time, but which I only recently started reading.  Having heard some of the quotes from this author before and having read them, it was quite interesting to see the context in which they appear, and to see this work as an example of a man trying to come to grips with his own humanity and the inhumanity of his place and time.  Few books are as damning a statement about the immorality of ideologies, especially on the left, as this one is, as the author over and over again points out that as bad as the Nazis were, the Communists were far worse and far more pervasive in their inhumanity to their own citizenry.  This is the sort of book that is likely to give readers nightmares, and understandably so, but at the same time this is a work well worth reading anyway, because it is worthwhile for us to understand how evil men can be and how regimes can see their fellow human beings as simply being fuel for the fire or things to be manipulated for their own lust and greed and desire to implement their own bestial ideologies.  If you are as fond of reading about prison culture as I am [1], this is a necessary book to read. This sizable work of more than 600 pages is merely the first volume of three in the complete series, which I hope to read before too long.  This particular volume, though, contains the first two books (of seven) in Solhenitsyn's lengthy discussion of the history and nature of the gulag system in Soviet Russia.  After a preface, the first part of this book consists of twelve chapters that discuss the gulag as a prison industry (I).  We look at the author's comments on arrest (1), the history of the gulag as the sewage disposal system of Russia (2), as well as the interrogation (3) and the corrupt bluecaps who work as the interrogators (4).  There are discussions of the feeling of first love that comes from being in a cell for the first time (5), the wholeness that Russia is missing because of its combination of emigre culture and corrupt leadership (6), the legal framework that allowed extralegal trials from the beginning of Soviet rule (7), and the Soviet law as a child (8), becoming a man (9), and maturing still further (10).  The author then looks at the death penalty as "the supreme measure" (11) and imprisonment (12).  The second, and much briefer, part of the book then examines the prison system of the Soviet Union as one in perpetual motion (II), with a look at the logistics of transporting prisoners (1), the ports of the prison archipelago (2), the relationship of prisoner transportation to the internal slave trade of the antebellum United States (3), and the way that communication and transportation goes on from island to island in the Gulag archipelago (4). When reading a book like this, it is easy to understand why it was written.  Solzhenitsyn seems himself as being responsible for putting as much as he can of the memories of himself and other prisoners down, so that their lives and deaths may not be forgotten and fall into oblivion.  He does not portray himself as a perfect person--indeed, he seems to go out of his way to point out his own cowardice and his own stupidity in getting himself involved in the system through making fun of Stalin in letters to another officer.  He also does not romanticize his experiences or that of others.  Rather, he appears to be interested in conveying the truth as best as he understands it, in showing how the most inhumane of experiences can result in becoming a better human, how it is that Russia as a whole coped with its experiences, how the Soviets were worse than the Nazis, far worse than Tzarist Russia, far worse indeed than most human beings can imagine other human beings being, and the failure of Russia's leaders to provide an atmosphere where ugly truths can be faced squarely and openly and acknowledged.   Ultimately, this is a book about memory.  If some recent writers view this work as being less than a scholarly discussion of the Gulag archipelago, it at least presents the reader with a clear moral demand that we remember those who have suffered and died.  Reading this book in many ways is like reading the writings of an intelligent and articulate survivor of Nazi Germany (someone like the late Elie Wiesel, for for example), demanding that people remember those who suffered and died whose lives were snuffed out, writing the stories of themselves and others in a way that allows the lives to be treasured, for honor to be recognized and appreciated, for loss and waste to be lamented, and for the wickedness of corrupt leaders to be lambasted and condemned.  Even if we do not have the power to bring the dead back to life who were snuffed out so wickedly by the Soviet leadership, we can at least remember the stories of those who lived and died in those barbarous circumstances, and we can thank Solzhenitsyn for recording them as best as they are able. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014...

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