A ringing condemnation of the Soviet Union. A voice crying out in the twilight, calling for remembrance, calling for justice (if only just a little).
It’s one part memoir, one part historical investigation, one part tour guide, part philosophical and historical exploration, and part collection of tragic human stories. It’s dirge of human woe. It’s humanity caught in a viscous, insane totalitarian system.
If hell is the impossibility of reason, then it was definitely achieved in Stalin’s forced labor prison camps. Even Kafka would probably be surprised by how bad it actually was.
Starting immediately after the October Revolution in 1917, and really getting going in the late 20’s, at its worst in the late ’30s, and continuing on even after Stalin’s death in 1953, the work of the KGB took millions of lives. There really is nothing like it in history. Obviously Hitler’s camps, but that was more of a contemporary phenomenon. The Spanish Inquisition seems paltry and limp-wristed in comparison to what the Soviets got up too.
It’s hard to quite grasp the scale of the arrests, harder still to understand why such a system was necessary. In a lot of ways, this is a testament to the weakness of the Soviet government; just how truly insecure they felt about the situation.
Solzhenitsyn’s writing is in the tradition of the great Russian novelists. It’s profoundly moving; he is able to capture larger truths that transcend the bars of the prison cell.
It’s a warning – beware of those who think they have access to the Absolute Truth.
It’s a great book, lyrical, but not for everyone.