THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, 1918-1956 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


An Experiment In Literary Investigation (volume Three)
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Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn uses the final volume of his epic account of the Soviet penal camp system--covering the years from World War II to the present--to remind us that the Soviet peoples are not "such slaves as all those studies by liberal historians contemptuously make us out to be." Especially after the war, the Archipelago's inhabitants, the zeks, ceased to accept their fate with resignation. Once a zek himself, Solzhenitsyn bears witness to their escapes and revolts. In 1954, at Kengir, they mutinied for 40 days, using balloons and kites to communicate with the outside, until crushed by assault troops and tanks. Despite the passing of the "Great Deceased" (Stalin), the Archipelago continues, albeit in a reduced form, and so does vigilance: the Party cannot err. Those who staffed the Archipelago in its worst days "sit with other pensioners on social service councils looking out for any lowering of moral standards" and railing against any easing of camp conditions. Solzhenitsyn notes that, in the absence of free public opinion, former warders who feel the need to justify themselves plead they were merely following orders--a defense the USSR rejected at Nuremburg. How, he asks, can a society hope to avoid future abuses if it fails to identify past injustices and punish those responsible? Once more Solzhenitsyn contends that the Archipelago, harsher by far than Tsarist katorga, was founded by Lenin and is essential to the survival of the Soviet regime. This is not a consensus opinion; Roy A. Medvedev and other Eastern and Western historians disagree with Solzhenitsyn's condemnation of Lenin. His work is, in any case, too aggressively polemical to be sound history. But, in a fitting conclusion to the other two volumes, it is a powerful memorial to those who refused to become slaves in a nation gone awry.
Pub Date: May 24th, 1978
ISBN: 0813332915
Page count: 580pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1978


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