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The Gulag Archipelago

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The Gulag Archipelago
The Gulag Archipelago

The Gulag Archipelago (Архипелаг ГУЛаг), probably the most powerful and famous book about the Soviet prison system, is a three-volume history written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn based on extensive research as well as his own experiences as a prisoner in the Gulag. It was published in 1973.

GULAG (Glavnoe Upravlenie Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerei, "Chief Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps") is an acronym for the administration of the Soviet prison labor camp system. The word archipelago compares the system of labor camps spread across the Soviet Union with a vast "chain of islands", known only to those who were fated to visit it. It also produces a rhyming title in Russian (arkhipelág gulág) that is not reproduced in English translation.

Solzhenitsyn originally wrote the book in secret after his own term as a political prisoner, but he had it published abroad in 1973 after the KGB (Soviet secret police) confiscated a copy of the manuscript.

The detail of the book, which presented information on the putative crimes and criminals, their phony trials, the transportation and treatment of prisoners, which put the USSR in a negative light, all in the context of a long history of oppression dating back to Lenin's absorption of the Tsarist penal system, was used by Western anti-communists.

The book is a compilation of not only Solzhenitsyn's personal experiences in the Gulags, but as well as the experiences of 227 fellow prisoners. These prisoners were either ones that Solzhneitsyn knew personally or whose story he heard from others- in fact, one chapter of the third volume of the book is written by a fellow prisoner- Georgi Tenno, whose escape exploits so caught Solzhenitsyn's eye that he offered him a position as co-author of the book. Tenno declined, and probably for the better. It is Solzhenitsyn's tightly focused, highly emotional prose which moves this book from point to point smoothly and unifies the work as a whole. The impact of the book is not in any way diminished by translation, a testament to its writer's effectiveness.

Interestingly enough, Solzhenitsyn did not think this series his defining work- even though it is by far his most popular (with the possible exception of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich). He has dedicated his writing talents since to an epic three-part series detailing the Russian Revolution, which has only been two-thirds completed, and, given Solzhenitsyn's advancing age and declining health, may never be completed.

External links

  • The Gulag Archipelago in original Russian, parts 1 and 2 (http://lib.ru/PROZA/SOLZHENICYN/gulag.txt), parts 3 and 4 (http://lib.ru/PROZA/SOLZHENICYN/gulag2.txt), and parts 5, 6, and 7 (http://lib.ru/PROZA/SOLZHENICYN/gulag3.txt).

de:Der Archipel Gulag fr:L'Archipel du Goulag pl:Archipelag Gułag

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