Title: The Gulag Archipelago (1918-1956)
Author: Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn
Publisher: Vintage Classics
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
A three-volume series The Gulag Archipelago was written between 1958 and 1968, first published in 1973 after some ups and downs. This masterpiece by the Russian writer and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shows us the reality of Soviet Russia as a Gulag prisoner.
He explains how people were “selected,” the manipulation, punishment, torture, psychological and ideological warfare, and more that people had to go through.
In this review article, I will not explain everything that The Gulag Archipelago book has to offer (it would take more than one review), but I will share my final thoughts and the reasons why we should read more books about our dark history. So with that ponderous surmise, let us begin…
If we do not learn from our past, we are condemned to repeat it…
“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
As I said before, this is part of our history, regardless of where you are from. This political war has not stopped since the end of the Gulag, we can see it in many quarters in our current times.
Some of the methods to scare and control people are the same ones they used to use before and are still using – fear as a way to control the masses. Misinformation is another example, and the most used now; to cancel (or kill) whoever does not agree with the current ideology.
So, how far away are we from that reality? Especially when we call for “union” and “diversity” while wearing their same symbols and using their same speeches.
“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
In one of the Gulag Archipelago chapters, Alexandr talks about the kids who were born inside the camps and even minors who were sent after they were born. He talks about how easy it was for them to adapt, and how fast they started to act like the same jailers.
The difference between them and the kids was that the adults had experienced interactions with good and pure souls. They knew everything that was happening was wrong, but what about the kids? Born in hell, all they knew was how to kill and steal. This confirms the importance of the influence of a good mentor and good principle-based values in a family.
“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The last and harder lesson to follow is, that being grateful can be hard, but what about all the prisoners? How can you be grateful after being living in hell for years (for some it never ended)? Well, Aleksandr expresses it perfectly in the quote above, after all that he went through, being able to see the stars and having some “quiet” moments during the day was like being in heaven.
We all should be grateful we do not live in those times, we all should be grateful we have a bed, food, and water. Hopefully, the next time you get angry because your hotel does not have Wi-Fi you will remember this article and smile because you can go outside and see the stars. You can still breathe, life is good!
To finish this review article, here are some short-but-powerful quotes from the author, to reflect on and follow from now on:
- “Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.”
- “One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny.”
- “The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.”
I hope you enjoyed this book review, let us know your thoughts below!