Monday, May 29, 2023

Review of The Gulag Archipelago [Volume 3]: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

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“Of course, no one is in need of freedom if he already has it.  We can agree with him that political freedom is not what matters in the end.  The goal of human evolution is not freedom for the sake of freedom.  Nor is it the building of an ideal polity.  What matter, of course, are the moral foundations of society.  But that is in the long run: what about the beginning?  What about the first step?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Part V: Katorga: Chapter 4: Why Did We Stand For It?, Page 105

“Freedom has something else in store for former convicts – reunion with family and friends.  Reunion of fathers with sons.  Of husbands with wives.  And it is not often that good comes out of these reunions.  In the ten or fifteen years lived apart from us, how could our sons grow in harmony with us: sometimes they are simply strangers, sometimes they are enemies.  Nor are women who wait faithfully for their husbands often rewarded: they have lived so long apart, long enough for a person to change completely, so that only his name is the same.  His experience and hers are too different – and it is no longer possible for them to come together again.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Part VI: Exile: Chapter 7: Zeks at Liberty, Page 493

“Then again, Soviet Law has forgotten all about the sin of bearing false witness – and simply does not regard it as a crime!  A legion of false witnesses thrives in our midst, they go sedately on their way to an honorable old age, bask in a golden sunset at the end of their days.  Ours is the only country in the world and in history to pamper perjurers!” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Part VII: Stalin Is No More: Chapter 3: The Law Today, Page 555



The death of Stalin did not end the Gulag.  The political regime was no longer able to survive without the Gulag.  Absolute power over people was not enough, the system required slander and propaganda as well.  Perjurers, those who bear false witness, were supported.  A culture was developed to serve oppression. 

Gulag officials did not mind when guards killed prisoners.  Instead, the guards were rewarded.  This was a security system that needed death to operate.  Without death, the guards would have been seen as not vigilant enough.  Or, there would have been claims that those who they portrayed as savages were docile prisoners.  Guards would have been embarrassed to show leniency to those they considered savages.  The guards showing leniency would have been informed on.

Escapes from Corrective Labor Camps were seen as an unavoidable aspect of an overextended economic system.  While escape from Special Camps were not possible, as these escapes would have been politically damaging.  Should the prisoners survive and serve out their long sentence, they would be released.  But after that many years, the individual would have been changed.  They would have become unrecognizable to those who knew them before.  Only their name remained the same.  This made reunions not a necessarily welcoming event.  Those who they would reunite with, have become strangers or even enemies.



This book is very difficult to read.  Contains poor organizational structure.  Most of the book is composed of examples, without much systematic analysis.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How did Stalin’s death effect the Gulag system?
•What kind of culture was developed?
•How were witnesses used?
•What happened to the guards who killed a prisoner?
•Could guards show leniency to prisoners?
•Was escape possible?
•For those released, how were their reunions with relatives? 

Book Details
Ancillary Author: Anne Applebaum
Translator:            Thomas P. Whitney
Edition:                 Digital Edition
Publisher:             HarperPerennial [HarperCollins Publishers]
Edition ISBN:      9780062941695
Pages to read:       673
Publication:          2020
1st Edition:           1973
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          2
Overall          2