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The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Volume One, Parts I-II)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Gulag Archipelago (Volume 1, Parts I-II)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,142392,066 (4.13)122
History. Nonfiction. HTML:

In this masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn has orchestrated thousands of incidents and individual histories into one narrative of unflagging power and momentum. Written in a tone that encompasses Olympian wrath, bitter calm, savage irony, and sheer comedy, it combines history, autobiography, documentary, and political analysis as it examines in its totality the Soviet apparatus of repression from its inception following the October Revolution of 1917.

This volume involves us in the innocent victim's arrest and preliminary detention and the stages by which he is transferred across the breadth of the Soviet Union to his ultimate destination: the hard-labor camp.

.
… (more)
  1. 60
    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 Fyodor Dostoyevsky (thatguyzero)
  3. 10
    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.
  4. 10
    If This Is a Man by Primo Levi (aprille)
  5. 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)
  6. 00
    Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela (aprille)
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» See also 122 mentions

English (25)  Catalan (3)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (2)  Indonesian (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Essential. Nietzsche's eternal recurrence: Russia 1917 - 1989 Unites States 2016 - TBD. ( )
  pdubya62 | Mar 29, 2023 |
I've read this once again, and it's as chilling on the third or fourth reading as it is on the first. A very clinical review of the history of Soviet prison camps and its associated system, using (to some measure) the author's own experiences in the system. Any sentimentality for the Soviet regime should be exposed to this series. ( )
  EricCostello | Nov 23, 2021 |
Wow. Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) exposes the hidden, super secret Soviet prison system in this first two-part volume of a seven-part trilogy. He spares no details in a difficult but fascinating book about a closed society in which nobody trusts anyone, and which is so afraid that its citizens might think for themselves, that it jailed and killed millions of them for nothing, no reason at all.

Jim ( )
  Jimbookbuff1963 | Jun 5, 2021 |
This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1
Series: Gulag Archipelago
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 626
Words: 265.5K

Synopsis:


Containing Parts I & II of Solzhenitsyn's book, The Gulag Archipelago.

From Wikipedia.com

Structurally, the text comprises seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn begins with V. I. Lenin's original decrees which were made shortly after the October Revolution; they established the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labor. The book then describes and discusses the waves of purges and the assembling of show trials in the context of the development of the greater Gulag system; Solzhenitsyn gives particular attention to its purposive legal and bureaucratic development.

The narrative ends in 1956 at the time of Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech ("On the Personality Cult and its Consequences"). Khrushchev gave the speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin's personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Although Khrushchev's speech was not published in the Soviet Union for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the Gulag system.

Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront the legacy of the Gulag, the realities of the camps remained a taboo subject until the 1980s. Solzhenitsyn was also aware that although many practices had been stopped, the basic structure of the system had survived and it could be revived and expanded by future leaders. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union's supporters in the West viewed the Gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and many among the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture – an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project.

Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for an inmate), derived from the widely used abbreviation "z/k" for "zakliuchennyi" (prisoner) through the Gulag, starting with arrest, show trial, and initial internment; transport to the "archipelago"; the treatment of prisoners and their general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system; camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following the completion of the original prison sentence; and the ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn's examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average prisoner's life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.

Solzhenitsyn also states:

Macbeth's self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare's evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes.... That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations... Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

— The Gulag Archipelago, Chapter 4, p. 173

There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence had been known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in this way. The controversy surrounding this text, in particular, was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal, and practical origins of the Gulag system at Lenin's feet, not Stalin's. According to Solzhenitsyn's testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western intellectuals viewed the Soviet concentration camp system as a "Stalinist aberration"

My Thoughts:

I started reading this book on March 13th. It took me until June 5th to finish. At under 700 pages I figured I could easily knock this out in a month, even if I only read it on the weekends. “Ha” and agains I say “ha!”

This was a dense book and mind you, it is the first of three. It is also dealing with very heavy material (not literally, it's paper after all) but my spirit was weighed down after reading it, every single time. By the time I got to the end I could only read 5 or 6 percent each weekend. While nothing is graphic, if you've been reading any of my Quote posts from the last couple of months, you'll know just how horrifying some of the stuff discussed in this book is.

Solzhenitsyn, thankfully, writes in a very dry, sardonic and sarcastic manner, which allowed me to distance myself from the words I was reading. That being said, he also writes in the most rambling form I have ever run across. I eventually just stopped trying to connect the dots and let him tell the tale in his own way.

He tells of his own arrest, his time in the sorting prisons and the time getting to the official Gulag camps. He also tells a lot of other peoples' stories as well. It is horrible, sad and disheartening that people today want a form of government that leads to Communism that inevitably leads to places like the Gulag.

I am going to take a break of 2 months and read some other non-fiction, preferably of the theological bent, before I dive back into Vol. 2.

★★★★☆ ( )
  BookstoogeLT | Jun 22, 2020 |
Magisterial and horrific. Whether you're killed for economic reasons or racist reasons you're just as dead.
  kencf0618 | Jun 25, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aleksandr Solzhenitsynprimary authorall editionscalculated
Applebaum, AnneForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peet, DickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peturnig, Annasecondary 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?
[Preface] In 1949 some friends and I came upon a noteworthy news item in Nature, a magazine of the Academy of Sciences.
[Acknowledgements] This book could never have been created by one person alone.
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.
Here is a riddle not for us contemporaries to figure out: Why is Germany allowed to punish its evildoers and Russia is not? What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside our body? What, then, can Russia teach the world?
Last words
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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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History. Nonfiction. HTML:

In this masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn has orchestrated thousands of incidents and individual histories into one narrative of unflagging power and momentum. Written in a tone that encompasses Olympian wrath, bitter calm, savage irony, and sheer comedy, it combines history, autobiography, documentary, and political analysis as it examines in its totality the Soviet apparatus of repression from its inception following the October Revolution of 1917.

This volume involves us in the innocent victim's arrest and preliminary detention and the stages by which he is transferred across the breadth of the Soviet Union to his ultimate destination: the hard-labor camp.

.

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