Gwen's Reviews > The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II

The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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's review
Dec 23, 2007

it was amazing
Recommended for: Russion Lit/History buffs, with strong stomachs
Read in December, 2007

Although this was really tough to slog through, by its end, I'm on the edge of my seat to read more. I hadn't known this was a seven part work, encapsuled in three volumes. I agree with another reviewer--it is hard to rate this (volume 1) with a certain number of stars, the implication being that everyone should read it--this is not your pollyanna bedtime story. But it is such an IMPORTANT work. Thank you to those who've translated it and distributed it. I hope all who value the first volume go on to learn the rest of--no, the ongoing, story of Russia and its systems. I'm looking for it in AIS's other works. But so far, this first volume is very very timely for our own country's frightening sense of direction.

Most moving for me and downright poetic is the passage in the last chapter entitled "From Island to Island" about the rare special-convoy trips between prisons. Special-convoys are hardly "distinguished from free travel. Only a few prisoners are delivered in this way" and only with high-official supersecret authorization. Our prisoner is accompanied by only two jailers, who are actually polite with their threats of shooting if he tries to escape. He is still a closely watched captive accustomed to horrible mind-dimming conditions and treatment, but told suddenly to act naturally (NATURALLY!!) among the throng of the untethered. "If the souls of those who have died sometimes hover among us, see us, easily read in us our trivial concerns, and we fail to see them or guess at their incorporeal presence, then that is what a special-convoy trip is like. You are submerged in the mass of hear strange and insignificant conversations:...some mother-in-law who..does not get along with her someone is in someone else's way in the office.....You listen to all this, and....the true measure of things in the Universe is so clear! [T]hese sinners aren't fated to perceive it. The only one there who is alive, truly alive, is incorporeal you, and all these others are simply mistaken in thinking themselves alive...... an unbridgeable chasm divides you! You cannot cry out to them, nor weep over them, nor shake them by the shoulder: after all, you are a disembodied spirit, you are a ghost, and they are material bodies."

What follows is a tragic transformation of a shocking desire--to reach these people, or make known his plight and direction (escape?)--into a dim futility in even considering it, and then to a surreal but understandable homecoming that leaves a hole in my heart. "After spending a few hours among FREE PEOPLE, here is what I feel: My lips are mute; there is no place for me among them; my hands are tied here. I want free speech! I want to go back to my native land! I want to go home to the Archipelago!"
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message 1: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Wow -- this is an incredible review! That quoted passage alone makes my heart hurt!

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