The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn’s attempt to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labor camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917 and that underwent an enormous expansion during the rule of Stalin from 1924 to 1953. Various sections of the three volumes describe the arrest, interrogation, conviction, transportation, and imprisonment of the Gulag’s victims by Soviet authorities over four decades. The work mingles historical exposition and Solzhenitsyn’s own autobiographical accounts with the voluminous personal testimony of other inmates that he collected and committed to memory during his imprisonment.Upon publication of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn was immediately attacked in the Soviet press. Despite the intense interest in his fate that was shown in the West, he was arrested and charged with treason on February 12, 1974, and was exiled from the Soviet Union the following day.
If you made it through the first volume, you owe it to yourself to keep going, for their is as much value here as you found in Part I.
Once again,this chronicle of appalling inhumanity is made endurable by the vitality and emotional range of the writing.
...In the final section "The Soul and the Barbed Wire", the music changes and he provides a magnificent coda on the possibilities of redemption and purification through suffering"
Taken from the dust jacket.
He starts off here in his second volume with the birth of the camps right at the start of the Russian Revolution. Then the first camp on Solovetsky, the building of the White Sea Canal and the spread of the camps throughout the Soviet Union. How the camps provided both free labour to build the Socialist economy, and that they also destroyed "through labour" those opposed in word, deed or thought to the Soviet Government. What does destroyed through labour mean? It means these people were worked to death. They were murdered as surely as if they had been shot, which the Soviet Government did as well.
He includes chapters on those loyal Communists sent to the Gulags, on how Gulag influenced the entire society, on the Zeks as the prisoners were known, on women, on the Guards, on the 58's (the political prisoners), on the Thiefs. It is hard to think of anything that has been left out. Throughout there are personal stories, things that he experienced and saw, things that others experienced. He includes stories on both those who survived and those who died. His research is impressive and his knowledge is extensive and he admits when he doesn't know something. How impressive is his research? This was the first real study of the Gulags and 40 years after it was published it is still one of the best. It just covers so many bases.
No book is perfect and it must be admitted that most people who start this book will not finish it, it is a heavy book in every sense of the word. This volume is volume 2 for a start, further it's nearly 700 pages long, thats a lot of reading. It is also about the death and destruction of millions of lives. To quote George Orwell out of context, most people do not want to read 700 pages of " If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever". When it was written the Soviet Union existed, it no longer does. What I found interesting is how many things I found that were still current in the world.