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The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Abridged: An…
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The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Abridged: An Experiment in Literary…

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Other authors: Edward E. Ericson (Abridged by)

Series: The Gulag Archipelago (Abridged)

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Gulag Archipelago is not a book I think you can really read for pleasure. It's heavy, heavy stuff, and it is -- to the best of anyone's ability -- non-fiction. It contains a lot of stark truths about Russia -- Stalin's Russia, and after -- and the conditions in the camps. We know plenty about the camps in Germany, and yet even now, decades after this book was published, I knew little about this.

I could as easily shelve it as 'horror' as I could 'non-fiction' or 'history'.

Despite that, it's not unrelenting. There's hope -- the very fact that I read this says there's hope: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's been heard. And there's a kind of dark humour, on nearly every page, in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's analysis of events and of people.

Definitely worth reading, if you can brace yourself for it. I read an abridged translation, but the author worked with the translator/abridger on it, as far as I can gather, so it could be more cohesive and easier to read than the original volumes. Even just dipping in and out of it, a chapter here and there, is better than not reading it at all. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
One of my all time favorites.

One of the accounts from the book that still makes me laugh (you read that right, though I shouldn't really) is:

A political meeting was going on with about 1000 - 2000 people present in the hall somewhere in USSR (I can't recall the exact location and time of the event). Now the desiderata for survival in Stalin era was that everyone should stand up and clap their hands furiously at the mention of his name. Now, you don't want to be the one to stop clapping first. This might suggest that you oppose Comrade Stalin (how dare you, O ye of feeble bourgeois mentality).

So, at this assembly someone inevitably mentioned Stalin's name. Right at that exact moment the whole congregation stood up and began to clap without forgetting to put a beaming stupid smile on their faces. Now you can't be sure that if Cheka agents are watching you at that moment or not. And moreover, you cannot stop clapping before your neighbor does, as he/she might inform on you. So this went on for 8 minutes (Now I tried clapping for 10 seconds myself and came to the conclusion that you clap twice in a second if you are doing it with gusto - fake or genuine). So they battered their hands together for at least 900 times.

Now the highest ranking local member of the Party at the meeting decided that this was getting ridiculous even by then Soviet Standards. He thought that 8 minutes of clapping and smiling was enough for showing their loyalty for a singular mention of Comrade Stalin's name. So he slowly stopped clapping and sat down. The congregation took no more than half a second to do likewise following his lead. Nobody spoke anything about the event in the concluding hours of the meeting. (But I am pretty much sure that everybody made certain that they didn't mention Stalin's name again for rest of the evening).

Next day, the Party member was arrested and never heard from again.


This book would have been comical if it would have been a work of fiction rather than non-fiction. But alas, that is not the case which makes it a sad sad collection of numerous accounts of human suffering under Soviet tyranny.
( )
  Veeralpadhiar | Mar 31, 2013 |
Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago is a history of the Soviet Russian system of forced labor concentration camps from 1918 to 1956. The preface by Anne Applebaum says it destroyed the prestige of the Soviet Union and the belief that its version of communism, at least, had any moral legitimacy and as such this isn't just history--it made history. It originally circulated in 1974 underground from hand to hand in unbound typed manuscripts. The subtitle is "an experiment in literary investigation." Solzhenitsyn had no "access to archival documents or government records" so, as he explains in his own introduction, the history is based on "reports, memoirs and letters by 227 witnesses"--including himself since he famously was an inmate of the Gulag system.

The tone of this is no detached, sober history. It's a scathing indictment of a brutal, surreal system with flashes of the blackest of humor and sharpest of ironies. I'm not about to forget, for instance, the tale of an auditorium of people applauding Stalin for over ten exhausting minutes because they all were afraid to be the first to stop. And the man who did was arrested. It's written in a powerful, very personal voice worthy of literary fiction--absolutely absorbing and despite the length not at all the slog I thought it would be. Not that some parts were not hard to read. In the beginning because so much is horrific, even for someone like me who has read first hand accounts of the Holocaust. And later the torrent of misery became numbing--I particularly started feeling that in the midst of reading about the Soviet "show trials" of the 1930s. It might be best to give this book a rest in the middle before continuing on afresh. And mind you--this edition--and all of those I've seen for sale in bookstores, is only the first two volumes of a seven-volume work.

This is a tour through islands of man-made hells and the contours of the police state by one who knew the territory intimately. In that regard, the chapters "The Arrest" and "The Interrogation" particularly stand out. Solzhenitsyn listed techniques ranging from sleep deprivation, stress positions, beatings and starvation to practices so barbaric, I flinch away at repeating them here. The Soviets could have taught the Gestapo a thing or two on torture. Solzhenitsyn recounts reading about a woman who was interrogated in a Nazi Camp and survived without giving away any information. Many, he said, would consider her a "model of a heroine." But Solzhenitsyn observes that "for a reader with a bitter Gulag past it's a model of inefficient interrogation" since she didn't "die under torture" nor was "driven insane." But above all what I think I will take away from this book is expressed in this quote: He says that "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts." ( )
2 vote LisaMaria_C | Jun 20, 2012 |
Brilliant! ( )
  Carolfoasia | Nov 2, 2011 |
Didn't finish. Very plain styling, almost reads like a timeline or a list. The first third is tragic, and recounts the jailings and reasons for the purges but doesn't delve to deeply into Gulag life. Tragic, but to laborious to finish the book.
  tkraft | Apr 9, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aleksandr Solzhenitsynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ericson, Edward E.Abridged bysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
In the period of dictatorship, surrounded on all sides by enemies, we sometimes manifested unnecessary leniency and unnecessary softheartedness. - Krylenko, speech at the Promparty trial
Dedication
I dedicate this to all those who did not live to tell it.  And may they please forgive me for not having seen it all nor remembered it all, for nt having divined all of it.
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How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Aleksandr Solzhenistyn's The Gulag Archipelago has been published in a number of formats, and is catalogued in a variety of ways. The complete work consists of seven parts, often divided into three volumes as follow: Volume One, consisting of Part I ("The Prison Industry") and Part II ("Perpetual Motion"); Volume Two, consisting of Part III ("The Destructive-Labor Camps") and Part IV ("The Soul and Barbed Wire"); and Volume III, consisting of Part V ("Katorga"), Part VI ("Exile") and Part VII ("Stalin Is No More").

THIS LT WORK IS INTENDED ONLY FOR THE ABRIDGED EDITION.

Please do not combine it with other copies having materially different content (e.g., Parts I-II, Parts III-IV, Parts V-VII, the complete work, an omnibus [such as Parts I-VI], any individual Part, or the abridged version). Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060007761, Paperback)

Drawing on his own incarceration and exile, as well as on evidence from more than 200 fellow prisoners and Soviet archives, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn reveals the entire apparatus of Soviet repression -- the state within the state that ruled all-powerfully.

Through truly Shakespearean portraits of its victims -- men, women, and children -- we encounter secret police operations, labor camps and prisons; the uprooting or extermination of whole populations, the "welcome" that awaited Russian soldiers who had been German prisoners of war. Yet we also witness the astounding moral courage of the incorruptible, who, defenseless, endured great brutality and degradation. The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 -- a grisly indictment of a regime, fashioned here into a veritable literary miracle -- has now been updated with a new introduction that includes the fall of the Soviet Union and Solzhenitsyn's move back to Russia.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 05 May 2014 21:42:13 -0400)

"This book is Solzhenitsyn's masterwork, a vast canvas of camps, prisons, transit centres and secret police, of informers and spies and interrogators and also of heroism, a Stalinist anti-world at the heart of the Soviet Union where the key to survival lay not in hope but in despair."--Back cover.… (more)

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