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The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (English and Russian Edition)

(Part of the The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Series and Архипелаг ГУЛАГ Series)

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn's attempt to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labor camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in...

Customer Reviews

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The Most Important Nonfiction Work of the 20th Century

How thin is the veil we call Civilization!! This book is indeed a tedious read by virtue of its length. However, Solzhenitsyn's history is written with the prosaic style of a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Captain in the Soviet Army as it charged through Nazi occupied Poland when he was arrested on trumped-up charges in February 1945. Thus began his odyssey through Gulag, "the country within a country". The perpetually weak economy of Communism could not survive without the forced labor of millions of is own citizens who became prisoners for one reason or another, or no reason at all. Solzhenitsyn relates his own experiences as well as those of other prisoners with whom he became acquainted while incarcerated. He relates how ordinary Russians were arrested and charged with fraudulent charges (if charged at all), interrogated, tortured and forced to confess under extreme duress, and sent off to labor for the good of the Motherland. Throughout the book, Solzhenitsyn asks the reader incredulously, "how did we let this happen?" That is no doubt one of the most important questions posed in all of human history. If we study history in order to prevent the repetition of our mistakes, then Solzhenitsyn's work should be required reading of all residents of Planet Earth.

Not a novel, an indictment

The point can't be made forcefully enough: this book is *not* a novel! It is not even literature, in any meaningful sense. It is a 2,000 page indictment for crimes against humanity. Chief among the accused is of course Stalin who, if justice exists, is currently serving 60 million consecutive life sentences in Hell. But as Solzhenitsyn abundantly documents, the Gulag death-camps were part of Lenin's vision from the very beginning. (In January 1918, he stated his ambition of "purging the land of all kinds of harmful insects", in which group he included "workers malingering at their work".) But it is not only the architects of Bolshevism who stand accused. It is also all the collaborators with oppression, from the camp guards who summarily executed prisoners too exhausted to stand to the people who informed on their neighbors. Complicit even are the passive victims of the Terror who, as Solzhenitsyn says, "didn't love freedom enough" to fight for it from the beginning.Needless to say, "The Gulag Archipelago" is not beach reading. (Although Solzhenitsyn's searingly sarcastic style makes it anything but a dry collection of facts.) The evil that it obsessively documents is so dark that even reading about it is often difficult to bear. But anyone with pretentions of understanding the world we live in needs to go through it from first page to last.But if you aren't willing to make the effort, here's the lesson boiled down for you: Totalitarianism doesn't begin with a Stalin or a Hitler. It begins with *you*, on the day that you let a government become more powerful than the people it governs. Remember that or someday it might not be the Russians or the Jews or the Serbs that the men with guns come for. It just might be you...

Bombastic Brilliant Unforgetable

What ever faults "Gulag Archipelago" may have, it is a monumental and important work. For anyone who does not know the meaning of the title, "Gulag" is the Russian word for prison, and an archipelago is, of course, a chain of islands. The idea behind this is that the Soviet concentration camp system under Lenin and Stalin were like an island of prisons spread all over the Soviet Union. The content of "Gulag Archipelago" is quite extraordinary. Solzhenitsyn includes countless anecdotes of prisoners and their families in various phases of arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, slave labor, death, or release. He buttresses these stories with statistics, and with his own personal narrative of his years in the Gulag. The information in this book is simply staggering, not only for the cruelty and evil it describes but also the folly. The Soviet government murdered indiscriminately across all lines of race, class, and gender. In many cases, it murdered the most brilliant and productive members of its society--the very people who could have built it into something great.Many people take umbrage with Solzhenitsyn's style, which involves a lot of ranting and run-on footnotes. Personally, I find his narrative interesting and invigorating. Solzhenitsyn's narrative is vigorous, untrammeled and loaded with sarcasm. While many find this gimmicky or uncultured, it helped buoy me through the unbearable sadness of the book's subject matter.Obviously this book isn't for everybody and it requires a considerable degree of fortitude to get through it. But I think it is essential in all our lives to read this book or one similar to it.

Someone has to tell the truth

This is probably as significant a book as has been published in the 20th century. Not because it changed the course of history or influenced a huge number of people. It did neither of these things. The history it deals with was already long passed and its size and severity kept it from being read by a mass audience. Still, it is significant because it tells a story that otherwise could not have been told. The full extent of what happened during the half century of Soviet rule to millions of Soviet citizens is the focus of this book and Solzhenitsyn's narrative, often numbing in the regularity of repeated cycles of arrests, 'trials', and imprisonment, seems to be his effort at repaying those who perished - at insuring that they are remembered and that those who subjected them to lives of torture are remembered for what they did.Solzhenitsyn is a true hero of the 20th century. A military officer of the Soviet Union during WWII, he was imprisoned for writing a letter that included a joke about Stalin. During his time in prison he met numerous others who had been in different camps - different places and different types - and started piecing together in his mind the full scale of the vast Gulag enterprise which eventually consumed more of his contrymen than the total count of those of all countries who died in WWII. That the size and scope of this mass internment was kept virtually a secret to most of the world (and to most Russians)for so long is only part of the horror to which Solzhenitzyn is responding.From his first book, A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch, a small volumn about a single day in the life of a typical Gulag prisoner - smuggled out of Russia and published in the West - he has devoted his life to various tellings of his country's recent history. Most of it to do with the Gulag. This isn't pleasant stuff. It isn't tight fiction like Darkness At Noon. This is the real stuff with no prettifying. He feels that someone had to tell the truth. We owe it to him to listen.
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