ALEXANDER DOLGUN'S STORY: An American in the Gulag by Alexander & Patrick Watson Dolgun

ALEXANDER DOLGUN'S STORY: An American in the Gulag

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Alexander Dolgun's account, remarkably summoned up from memory, is just one of the stories Solzhenitsyn might have incorporated in his massive work on the Gulag Archipelago. Without any of the heavy historical structure of that work or the exhaustive political inquiry into the apparat, or the moral vehemence. In a word, it is far more accessible to the general reader. As Aeschylus' Prometheus said--""for sufferers it is sweet to know beforehand clearly the pain that still remains for them."" Had Dolgun known-would he have survived the eight years of interrogation and internment (Solzhenitsyn whom he later met was surprised that he emerged from two of the facilities)? But then Dolgun had both youth and resilience on his side from the time when, in 1948, at 22, he was captiously arrested for no known--then or now--reason. He was a file clerk at the American Embassy, charged with espionage, political terrorism, etc. and told that he would be imprisoned ""for the rest of your life."" Actually his experiences go from worse to bad from the first months of sleeplessness, torture day and night, solitude when he found that ""memory keeps you alive"" and devised ways in which to keep it active. Ultimately also he would become ""a socially dangerous element"" and transferred from camp to camp, spending much time in the hospital ward (edema, dysentery, an enlarged heart). He also learned the tricks of detention--garlic in the anus could create a fever, silver dust fried from a ring and inhaled could generate a shadow on the lung. Fortunately he was able to remain on hospital duty as an aide or ""feldsher"" even if actually performing surgery when necessary. By 1954--there was a general detente--concerts, movies, passes to town and by 1956 he was returned to Moscow where he found what was left of his mother. Beyond its inhuman human interest, Dolgun permits the experience to speak for itself as it does with the eloquence of simple truth and undiminishable confidence in his ability to survive, coute que coute. That it is never too much for the politically indifferent or physically queasy reader is corroborated by its selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1975
Publisher: Knopf