A WORLD APART: The Journal of a Gulag Survivor by Gustav Herling

A WORLD APART: The Journal of a Gulag Survivor

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A well-deserved first American edition of memoirs published in Europe in 1951. Herling's story is at once heroic and human; his accounts are both systematically detailed and bitterly vital. The volume is a fit companion to Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn in documenting the tragic history of Soviet injustice and repression. The author was convicted of attempting to cross the Soviet-Lithuanian border while escaping from German-occupied Poland, and though his offense was a minor one, he was sentenced to five years in labor camps. He was released only after a near-fatal hunger strike that demanded amnesty under the terms of the Soviet-Polish pact. While incarcerated, he used his observational powers as a means to survive, to stay sane, unlike, for example, one prisoner who tortured himself, surreptitiously plunging his arm into the open fire both to get dispensation from work and to reaffirm his self-martyrdom. The Kafkaesque logic of their plight makes the suffering maddening; the bunkhouses are not quiet at night, but filled with shrieks, babbling, and sobbing. Despite all, there is life amid the dreariness: when an American musical film is shown to the prisoners, its effect is incredibly revivifying. In both practical and psychological detail, Hefting examines the Soviet means of transforming prisoners through the complete disintegration of individuality, and then the methods of exploiting them economically, as slave labor, lacing his personal account throughout. A searingly memorable book.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1986
Publisher: Arbor House