Review: "The Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhsenitsyn



cancel culture

The Soviet communists didn’t invent cancel culture, but they surely perfected it. 

The communists eliminated political opposition, set up a huge secret police network, established a far-flung forced labor camp system, exiled dissidents, and, encouraged citizens to inform on each other. It’s no wonder Soviet citizens were afraid to speak their minds. The sordid history of Soviet terror and oppression is all documented in the pages of this book. 

In The Gulag Archipelago named by TIME magazine the “Best Nonfiction Work of the Twentieth Century”  Alexander Solzhenitsyn traces the history and development of the vast Soviet network of prison and work camps, which began after the Bolshevik uprising in 1917 and continued for four decades.


Somewhere between ten and fifty million people were sent to forced labor camps. Solzhenitsyn himself served eight years at a labor camp. His offense? Criticizing Stalin in private letters. 

This book will give you a new appreciation for Alexander Solzhenitsyn one of the great men of the last century and it will also open your eyes to the horrors of totalitarianism. I bought my abridged edition (shown above) at Barnes & Noble

Nice introduction to the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It’s hard to overstate the impact Alexander Solzhenitsyn's short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had on the Soviet totalitarian system. Published in 1962, this book was the first account of Stalin’s forced labor camps to be published inside the Soviet Union. Millions of Soviet citizens read it. Solzhenitsyn, who had himself served eight years hard labor for criticizing Stalin, became an overnight sensation. The Soviet government was so rattled by the public’s reception that two years later the government banned all works by Solzhenitsyn and proceeded to marginalize and repress him. In 1974 the government stripped him of his Soviet citizenship and deported him to West Germany.


Over the next three decades no one was more effective at exposing the moral rot at the core of Soviet totalitarianism — most powerfully in his masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago.


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich takes the reader through a single day in a labor camp, from reveille to lights out, through the eyes of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. A stark, powerful portrayal of the desperation of prisoners trying to survive and maintain their dignity in the harsh conditions of a Soviet prison camp.


One brief word about the characters in the book. One of the sympathetic characters in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a fellow prisoner, Alyosha the Baptist. As the day ends Shukhov and Alyosha are on their bunks having a conversation about prayer. Shukhov tells the Baptist that prayer doesn't work, and won't shorten anyone's sentence. Alyoshka explains that getting out of prison isn’t the point: "You mustn't pray for that. What do you want your freedom for? What faith you have left will be choked in thorns. Rejoice that you are in prison. Here you can think of your soul." (p.141.) Shukhov respected Alyosha as someone who read the gospels regularly, and who was generous with other prisoners. Shukhov reflects: "Alyoshka was talking the truth. You could tell by his voice and his eyes he was glad to be in prison."


It seems to me Solzhenitsyn is hinting at the spiritual transformation he experienced during his own imprisonment, which he details in more depth in The Gulag Archipelago. In The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn describes his gratitude for prison since it gave him an opportunity to nourish his own soul. "I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: Bless you prison, for having been in my life."


This little book my Bantam Classics version is 144 pages is a compelling introduction to Solzhenitsyn. Buy it from Amazon here

Now reading: "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

Now reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn's short novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which chronicles the cruelty of daily life in a Soviet prison camp. My Bantam Classics version is 144 pages.

Review - "Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America" by Chris Arnade

Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade is a powerful and insightful exploration of the class divide in America. 
Arnade believes that in the US, there is front-row America and back-row America. Front-row Americans have credentials and advantages and upward mobility. They often stigmatize and ridicule the people in the back row. Back-row Americans hang out at McDonald’s and at churches — two places they find acceptance and community. And they sense it when their worldview and their religion are belittled.
Arnade traveled to cities and towns across America where back-row Americans live: the Bronx, New York; Selma, Alabama; Bakersfield, California; areas in Maine, Nevada, and elsewhere. He interviewed them and photographed them. (The dozens of photos in the book have an endearing quality that humanizes these people who’ve been left behind.)
It is worth noting that many front-row Americans happen to be like Arnade — politically progressive. Progressives often think they know what is best for the underclass, but they are oblivious that their advice comes across as shallow and condescending to back-row Americans.
The back-row Americans you encounter in this book will change the way you see working-class and lower-class Americans. Click here to buy from Amazon.