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The Gulag Archipelago vol 1
The Gulag Archipelago vol 2
The Gulag Archipelago vol 3

The Gulag Archipelago: volumes 1 - 3

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago is a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008) based on the Soviet forced labor and concentration camp system. The three-volume book is a narrative relying on eyewitness testimony, as well as the author's own experiences as a prisoner in a gulag labor camp. Written between 1958 and 1968, it was published in the West in 1973, thereafter circulating in samizdat (underground publication) form in the Soviet Union until its official publication in 1989.
In WW II Solzhenitsyn achieved the rank of captain of artillery and was twice decorated. From 1945 to 1953 he was imprisoned for writing a letter in which he criticized Joseph Stalin "the man with the mustache." Solzhenitsyn served in the camps and prisons near Moskow, and in a camp in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan (1945-53). During these years, Solzhenitsyn's double degree in mathematics and physics saved him mostly from hard physical labour, although in 1950 he was taken to a new kind of camp, created for political prisoners only, where he worked as a manual laborer.
"The Kolyma was the greatest and most famous island, the pole of ferocity of that amazing country of Gulag, which, though scattered in an archipelago geographically, was, in the psychological sense, fused into a continent - an almost invisible, almost imperceptible country inhabited by the Zek people." (in The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, 1974).
Structurally, the text is made up of seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the Soviet concentration camp and forced labour system from 1918 to 1956, starting with V.I. Lenin's original decrees shortly after the October Revolution establishing the legal and practical frame for a slave labor economy, and a punitive concentration camp system. It describes and discusses the waves of purges, assembling the show trials in context of the development of the greater gulag system with particular attention to the legal and bureaucratic development.
Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront this Soviet system, the realities of the camps remained taboo into the 1980s. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union's supporters in the West viewed the gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture—an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project. This view, politically unpopular inside and outside the USSR during the Cold War because it ascribed to Lenin the theoretical and practical origins of the concentration camp system, has become the prevalent view of most writers and scholars since the USSR's demise.
Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for inmate) through the concentration camp system, starting with arrest, show trial and initial internment; transport to the "archipelago"; treatment of prisoners and general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system (where Andrei Sakharov and his team of prisoner-scientists developed the Soviet Union's first hydrogen bomb); camp rebellions and strikes ; the practice of internal exile following completion of the original prison sentence; and ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn's examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average zek's life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.
Volume 1 - Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society.
Volume 2 - The story of Solzhenitsyn's entrance into the Soviet prison camps, where he would remain for nearly a decade.
Volume 3 - Solzhenitsyn's moving account of resistance within the Soviet labor camps and his own release after eight years.
More books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962; novella)
An Incident at Krechetovka Station (1963; novella)
Matryona's Place (1963; novella)
For the Good of the Cause (1964; novella)
The First Circle (1968; novel)
Cancer Ward (1968; novel)
The Love-Girl and the Innocent (1969; play)
The Red Wheel
See also:
Ivan's War - Catherine Merridale
Paper Book
volume 1            
volume 2            
volume 3