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The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 : an…
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The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 : an experiment in literary investigation… (1974)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Gulag Archipelago (Volume One, Parts I-II)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,756122,128 (4.14)41
  1. 40
    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (editfish)
    editfish: A novella exploring a typical day in the life of a 'slogger' in one of Stalin's prison (Destructive Labor) camps.
  2. 21
    The House of the Dead by Fedor Mikhaïlovitch Dostoïevski (thatguyzero)
  3. 00
    Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram (fundevogel)
    fundevogel: Reading Gulag I was compelled to finally track down this work which documents the famous experiment that exposed the cruelty ordinary people could be prodded into executing in the name of obedience. It really should be required reading especially when learning about institutionalized cruelty as seen in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.… (more)
  4. 00
    The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (editfish)
    editfish: This novel goes beyond the research of 'Gulag' and looks at life in the Sharaska (Paradise Islands) of the Archipelago.
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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
How many "investigators" are able to document facts while still communicating "literary" values? Solzhenitsyn witnessed that which he testifies into, and he indicts Soviet injustices. The key to Soviet control is not the "new man" or humanity of any kind. The USSR is not run by or created by men of greatness or vision. The key to the Soviet Union is the secret police, operating a prison within a prison. ( )
  keylawk | Jan 13, 2014 |
The Gulag Archipelago (I-II). Over the 4 months I spent reading it I found there were just two reactions in who asked what I was reading: indifferent unfamiliarity and oh, that. This seems appropriate. If you know what the book is "oh, that" is pretty much the simplest, most sincere response.

This isn't anyone's favorite book and what literary qualities there are you don't discuss with your book club. More than anything it is a monument. A monolith of document whose sole purpose is to record the Soviet government's secret holocaust . At least tens of millions were swept up off the streets, from their homes, their jobs and disappeared forever into the grist mill that was the archipelago. Ostensibly these were political arrests, know as 58s. It used to be under the tzars there was pride in being a political prisoner and they commanded a certain amount of respect in prison. Not so under the Soviets. The highest crime was individual thought and if they had even the slightest thought that you may only be 99.99% in step with the regime you were arrested, your dangerous ideas quarantined from the public.

I say ostensibly because this is only part true. It is true that people had only to let off even the barest hint of individual political thought to be swept up. But this was not necessary. The first World War was ending and the distribution of power had changed. Country folk now might be crossing country lines to visit family they had always visited. The Soviet government treated such indifference to the new border as espionage. Russians that returned home from living in Europe were arrested for the crime of being able to notice that The U.S.S.R. was rather shit compared to the west. Russians living abroad that chose to remain rather than return to the new Soviet Union were branded spies, kidnapped and dumped into the archipelago. There were also the Russian POWs, Russian soldiers that had the audacity to live rather than die for their country. They were considered traitors simply by virtue of their continued existence. And in greater numbers were people that were probably just a poor combination of unlucky and naive, people swept up simply because the gulags needed to be fed. You see, as much as the gulags were about political suppression they were even more an economic fact. The country could not support itself on honest labor (if there even was such a thing in the Soviet Union) and thus became dependent on slave labor in the gulags. This is why there were arrest quotas. The gulags required a steady diet of new prisoners as it shat out emaciated corpses that had never had a chance to finish the 5, 10, 15 or 20 year sentences that had been hung on them.

And that's assuming they survived long enough to die in the gulag. The physical book I just completed contained only the first two volumes of Gulag. In all there are seven. In the first two parts Solzhenitsyn doesn't even get to the gulag. Solzhenitsyn you see isn't just writing a memorial, he is documenting a suppressed history as it happens. He knows that no matter how many millions disappear the government is doing it's damnedest to make sure no one finds out what happened to them, to simply make them disappear. And so Gulag attempts to record every facet of the Gulag system including the road to it. He explains the way arrests are carried out, how interrogations are conducted and the role of torture, via both active and passive means. Active torture would be things like beating or staging fake executions (like in Argo) which require action on the part of the torturer, passive torture includes things like starvation, sleep deprivation, prolonged exposure to extreme cold and shoving you in a box full of bedbugs to suck you till you can't stand while they eat lunch (the guards I mean, but I guess the bed bugs are having lunch too). Use of passive techniques by far surpassed active torture as it cost nothing and required no energy on the part of the torturer. There is a limit to just how many prisoners one person can beat. You can only beat one at a time and eventually you have to rest your arm and even the most efficient beater is eventually looking at a repetitive stress injury. On the other hand there is no limit to how many prisoners you can freeze, starve or turn into typhoid fodder all at once. Solzhenitsyn scoffs at reports of people being released unbroken after 4 days of torture by Nazis. Clearly, he says, the Nazis gave up too soon. Everyone breaks under Soviet torture.

On the other hand Solzhenitsyn celebrates every small mercy and the slightest joy that prisoners may enjoy on their way to the gulag. A piss pot, even when it is overflowing, is better than no piss pot. And a bowl is a luxury when you've been eating your gruel out of your coat pockets. And a trip to the latrine, sheer bliss. And then there are the truly unique privileges of the prisoners. In the Butyrki political prisoners awaiting sentencing could request any book from the library. There was no telling when it would turn up but they did turn up and they were books unavailable anywhere else in the U.S.S.R.. They were by in large confiscated from personal collections and the prisoners overwhelmingly indulged in books forbidden in the Soviet Union. Maybe the prison staff didn't know the contents of the books they dutifully delivered to the 58s or maybe they just didn't care about enforcing censorship among a group of people that had already been deemed politically tainted and quarantined. Solzhenitsyn goes so far as to say, "The cell was constricted, but wasn't freedom even more constricted?". You see, outside, where bodies were free minds and mouths were caged by fear of the government, but once in prison you could say whatever you wanted within the intellectual safe zone of the quarantine. And they did. You get the impression that the communal cells housing 58s were full of vibrant and passionate debate on politics and philosophy. Only here were intellectual pariahs free to state their minds, make their cases and change the minds of each other.

There really is no hope of me detailing even a fraction of Solzhenitsyn's work here (and it would only be a fraction of his work if I even attempted it), but I can say with complete conviction that he achieved what he set out to do. He told us what happened to them. How it was done and what it was to live it. And he did it while himself a prisoner. This is what a hero looks like.

Selected Quotes:

"Even the most broad-minded of us can embrace only that part of the truth into which our own snout has blundered."

"The machine stamped out sentences. The prisoner had already been deprived of all rights when they cut off his buttons on the threshold of State Security, and he wouldn't avoid a stretch. The members of the legal profession were so used to this that they fell of their faces in 1958 and caused a big scandal. The text of the projected new 'Fundamental Principles of Criminal Prosecution of the U.S.S.R.' was published in the newspapers, and they'd forgotten to include any reference to possible grounds for acquittal. The government newspaper issued a mild rebuke: 'The impression might be created that our courts only bring in convictions.'"

"If you live in a graveyard, you can't weep for everyone."

"But wasn't everything foredoomed anyway, from the moment of arrest? Yet all the arrested crawled along the path of hope on their knees, as if their legs had been amputated."

"At Novosibirsk Transit Prison in 1945 they greeted the prisoners with a roll call based on cases. 'So and so! Article 58-1a, twenty-five years.' The chief of the convoy was curious: 'What did you get that for?' 'For nothing at all.' 'You are lying. The sentence for nothing at all is ten years.'"

"The OSO enjoyed another important advantage in that its penalty could not be appealed. There was nowhere to appeal to. There was no appeals jurisdiction above it, and no jurisdiction beneath it. It was subordinate only to the Minister of Internal Affairs, to Stalin, and to Satan."

"What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve for." ( )
  fundevogel | Apr 29, 2013 |
Group Z
  gilsbooks | May 18, 2011 |
Group L
  gilsbooks | May 17, 2011 |
Do not open this book for a light read. Do, however, open this book and read. Solzhenitsyn bares every detail of Gulag life, from the first arrest to…well, I don’t know how far, because this edition represent just one-third of the entire work that Solzhenitsyn has created – this is only books one and two. 600+ pages devoted to the tortures that lead to unnecessary confessions (unnecessary because you will be arrested and sent to the camps even if you don’t confess), devoted to the mockery of public trials, devoted to the history of these shams (all the way back to the Tsars – showing how the dictators learned from their enemies and took it all to the next level), devoted to the various horrors of the various transportation methods, devoted to getting us to the camps. (And to think that these were events occurring prior to, contemporaneously with, and subsequent to the Nazi horrors from which we all recoil. This makes the Nazis look like pikers.) And the camps don’t really appear until after books one and two.

Here is the amazing part; here is the part that shoots this into the upper stratosphere of great writing. It would be very easy for this book to sink into its own detail – to leave the reader mired in the minutia. However, Solzhenitsyn is a writer of incomparable skill, and his interweaving of human stories within all this detail keeps the reader intrigued. And just about the time you are tempted to skim, another story surfaces which brings you back into the book and brings the book to life.

I cannot imagine trying to absorb more than this first edition without some break. So, I will move on to something else for a while to refresh myself. But, even if I were to never return to the rest of this “trilogy” (and, believe me, I will be back), I could never escape the image Solzhenitsyn has so artfully seared into my mind. ( )
1 vote figre | Mar 22, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aleksandr Solzhenitsynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Applebaum, AnneForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peet, D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitney, Thomas P.Translatorsecondary authorsome 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 not having divined all of it.
First words
How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago?
Quotations
Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties - but right through every human heart - and through all human hearts.
Last words
(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 VOLUME ONE, PARTS I-II.

Please do not combine other copies having materially different content (e.g., 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 0060803320, Paperback)

The Soviet Union had the largest secret political prison system of its time, scattered into the most remote corners of Eastern Europe and Asia. When Solzhenitsyn came out, he told the stories of shattered lives in a shattered nation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:26 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Drawing on his own experiences before, during, and after his 11 years of incarceration and exile, Solzhenitsyn reveals with torrential narrative and dramatic power the entire apparatus of Soviet repression. Through truly Shakespearean portraits of its victims, we encounter the secret police operations, the labor camps and prisons, the uprooting or extermination of whole populations. Yet we also witness astounding moral courage, the incorruptibility with which the occasional individual or a few scattered groups, all defenseless, endured brutality and degradation. Solzhenitsyn's genius has transmuted this grisly indictment into a literary miracle.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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