Friday, 23 April 2010

THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This is a famous book that one keeps meaning to read, so one has decided to read it. I bought it on Amazon, where the customer reviews are the sort of mouth-frothingly eager ones that make one feel all the more required to read it. Check it out. Charmingly, it comes to me in Zimbabwe as a discarded book from a library in small town Arkansas, complete with index card sleeve.

It's not really the sort of book that one can call 'good,' because that seems sort of disrespectful. Quality terms don't really apply to this sort of book.

Basically, Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in a hard labour camp under Stalin. He actually got off lightly, as typical setences were ten to twenty five years. He was jailed for being a literary person, but you needn't think you actually needed to be guilty to go to the Gulag. Essentially, areas had quotas, both for jailings and executions, so anyone and everyone could be arrested quite randomly, and thousands and thousands of people were. They really wanted 'confessions' and lists of 'co-conspirators' (ie, your acquaintances, to make arrests less effort). So there was a lot of torture, stomach-churningly described. Incredibly, to me, lots of individuals refused to sign anything, or give up any names, and so as Sozhenitsyn puts it about one case, 'died a victor in his cell.'

It actually boggles the mind. You can't believe it really happened. They also sent whole groups - like millions of people - to exile in Siberia, where many died. Just twelve years after the Russian Revolution had divided up the land fairly, some people were already doing slightly better than their neighbours, presumably through hard work as they had no material advantages. These 'kulaks' were viewed as class enemies and sent into exile - millions of them - which immediately caused a three year famine, in which millions more died.

Being in Zim at the moment, I'm especially struck by two things: one, how angry the author is, and two, how madly brave he is. He is naming names and ripping shit up. Like, he tells us who informed on who simply to get his girlfriend, and then tells us where he currently lives in comfort in Moscow. Madly brave.

Here's the rest of the review.


  1. I'm just reading this now. Crazy Crazy book. Would like to discuss when I'm done!

  2. Hey Hayd. It is a great book. It makes you realise that some sub-Saharan countries we could name are getting off pretty lightly. Here's the rest of the review
    It took me months to read!