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Book Review: The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, 84 Yale Law Journal 952 (1975)

Abstract

This violent and gripping work comprises the first two parts (I, The Prison Industry; II, Perpetual Motion) of a projected seven, which are designed to take up three volumes in all. As a few readers of this Journal may still not know, the title is derived from a Soviet acronym and an image of the author's: Gulag, from Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei, chief administration of (corrective-labor) camps; Archipelago, from Solzhenitsyn's perception "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 more than one sense the book is a discharge. It discharges Solzhenitsyn's files of the stories told him by scores of fellow prisoners, beached, like him, on one or another of the many islands of the Archipelago by one or another of the many waves of repression produced by one or another of the several governments that have ruled the Soviet Union. It helps to discharge some of his own memories of arrest, prosecution, and confinement. It discharges some of the debt Solzhenitsyn felt he owed to his informants in camps or prisons, or out in the "big zone," as well as to the friend who killed herself in 1973 after Soviet interrogators had forced her to reveal where she had hidden a portion of Solzhenitsyn's manuscript. And it discharges (but surely does not deplete) Solzhenitsyn's scorn and contempt of the leaders who in the name of supreme virtue wrought injustice on a scale seldom known elsewhere, and of the followers who applauded persecution until (sometimes, even after) they fell victim to it.

Date of Authorship for this Version

1975

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