Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation

Overview

Solzhenitsyn's gripping epic masterpiece, the searing record of four decades of Soviet terror and oppression, in one abridged volume, authorized by the author

On of the true and indispensable classics of twentieth-century literature.

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Overview

Solzhenitsyn's gripping epic masterpiece, the searing record of four decades of Soviet terror and oppression, in one abridged volume, authorized by the author

On of the true and indispensable classics of twentieth-century literature.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Time magazine
“Best Nonfiction Book of the Twentieth Century”
Time Magazine
"Best Nonfiction Book of the Twentieth Century"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061253805
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/7/2007
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Abridged Edition
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 149,786
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

After serving as a decorated captain in the Soviet Army during World War II, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was sentenced to prison for eight years for criticizing Stalin and the Soviet government in private letters. Solzhenitsyn vaulted from unknown schoolteacher to internationally famous writer in 1962 with the publication of his novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. The writer's increasingly vocal opposition to the regime resulted in another arrest, a charge of treason, and expulsion from the USSR in 1974, the year The Gulag Archipelago, his epic history of the Soviet prison system, first appeared in the West. For eighteen years, he and his family lived in Vermont. In 1994 he returned to Russia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died at his home in Moscow in 2008.

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Read an Excerpt

The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Abridged
An Experiment in Literary Investigation

Chapter One

Arrest

How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago? Hour by hour planes fly there, ships steer their course there, and trains thunder off to it -- but all with nary a mark on them to tell of their destination. And at ticket windows or at travel bureaus for Soviet or foreign tourists the employees would be astounded if you were to ask for a ticket to go there. They know nothing and they've never heard of the Archipelago as a whole or of any one of its innumerable islands.

Those who go to the Archipelago to administer it get there via the training schools of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Those who go there to be guards are conscripted via the military conscription centers.

And those who, like you and me, dear reader, go there to die, must get there solely and compulsorily via arrest.

Arrest! Need it be said that it is a breaking point in your life, a bolt of lightning which has scored a direct hit on you? That it is an unassimilable spiritual earthquake not every person can cope with, as a result of which people often slip into insanity?

The Universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it. Each of us is a center of the Universe, and that Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: "You are under arrest."

If you are arrested, can anything else remain unshattered by this cataclysm?

But the darkened mind is incapable of embracing these displacements in our universe, and both the most sophisticated and the veriest simpleton among us, drawing on all life's experience, can gasp outonly: "Me? What for?"

And this is a question which, though repeated millions and millions of times before, has yet to receive an answer.

Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somersault from one state into another.

We have been happily borne -- or perhaps have unhappily dragged our weary way -- down the long and crooked streets of our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood, rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings. We have never given a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to penetrate them with our vision or our understanding. But there is where the Gulag country begins, right next to us, two yards away from us. In addition, we have failed to notice an enormous number of closely fitted, well-disguised doors and gates in these fences. All those gates were prepared for us, every last one! And all of a sudden the fateful gate swings quickly open, and four white male hands, unaccustomed to physical labor but nonetheless strong and tenacious, grab us by the leg, arm, collar, cap, ear, and drag us in like a sack, and the gate behind us, the gate to our past life, is slammed shut once and for all.

That's all there is to it! You are arrested!

And you'll find nothing better to respond with than a lamblike bleat: "Me? What for?"

That's what arrest is: it's a blinding flash and a blow which shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into omnipotent actuality.

That's all. And neither for the first hour nor for the first day will you be able to grasp anything else.

Except that in your desperation the fake circus moon will blink at you: "It's a mistake! They'll set things right!"

And everything which is by now comprised in the traditional, even literary, image of an arrest will pile up and take shape, not in your own disordered memory, but in what your family and your neighbors in your apartment remember: The sharp nighttime ring or the rude knock at the door. The insolent entrance of the unwiped jackboots of the unsleeping State Security operatives. The frightened and cowed civilian witness at their backs. (And what function does this civilian witness serve? The victim doesn't even dare think about it and the operatives don't remember, but that's what the regulations call for, and so he has to sit there all night long and sign in the morning. For the witness, jerked from his bed, it is torture too -- to go out night after night to help arrest his own neighbors and acquaintances.)

The traditional image of arrest is also trembling hands packing for the victim -- a change of underwear, a piece of soap, something to eat; and no one knows what is needed, what is permitted, what clothes are best to wear; and the Security agents keep interrupting and hurrying you:

"You don't need anything. They'll feed you there. It's warm there." (It's all lies. They keep hurrying you to frighten you.)

The traditional image of arrest is also what happens afterward, when the poor victim has been taken away. It is an alien, brutal, and crushing force totally dominating the apartment for hours on end, a breaking, ripping open, pulling from the walls, emptying things from wardrobes and desks onto the floor, shaking, dumping out, and ripping apart -- piling up mountains of litter on the floor-and the crunch of things being trampled beneath jackboots. And nothing is sacred in a search! During the arrest of the locomotive engineer Inoshin, a tiny coffin stood in his room containing the body of his newly dead child. The "jurists" dumped the child's body out of the coffin and searched it. They shake sick people out of their sickbeds, and they unwind bandages to search beneath them.

For those left behind after the arrest there is the long tail end of a wrecked and devastated life. And the attempts to go and deliver food parcels. But from all the windows the answer comes in barking voices: "Nobody here by that name!" "Never heard of him!" Yes, and in the worst days in Leningrad it took five days of standing in crowded lines just to get to that window, And it may be only after half a year or a year that the arrested person responds at all. Or else the answer is tossed out: "Deprived of the right to correspond." And that means once and for all. "No right to correspondence" -- and that almost for certain means: "Has been shot."

That's how we picture arrest to ourselves.

The kind of night arrest described is, in fact, a favorite, because it has important advantages. Everyone living in the apartment is thrown into a state of terror by the first knock at the door. The arrested person is torn from the warmth of his bed. He is in a daze, half-asleep, helpless, and his judgment is befogged. In a night arrest the State Security men have a superiority in numbers; there are many of them, armed, against one person who hasn't even finished buttoning his trousers. During the arrest and search it is highly improbable that a crowd of potential supporters will gather at the entrance. The unhurried, step-by-step visits, first to one apartment, then to another, tomorrow to a third and a fourth, provide an opportunity for the Security operations personnel to be deployed with the maximum efficiency and to imprison many more citizens of a given town than the police force itself numbers.

In addition, there's an advantage to night arrests in that neither the people in neighboring apartment houses nor those on the city streets can see how many have been taken away. Arrests which frighten the closest neighbors are no event at all to those farther away. It's as if they had not taken place. Along that same asphalt ribbon on which the Black Marias scurry at night, a tribe of youngsters strides by day with banners, flowers, and gay, untroubled songs.

But those who take, whose work consists solely of arrests, for whom the horror is boringly repetitive, have a much broader understanding of how arrests operate. They operate according to a large body of theory, and innocence must not lead one to ignore this. The science of arrest is an important segment of the course on general penology and has been propped up with a substantial body of social theory. Arrests are classified according to various criteria: nighttime and daytime; at home, at work, during a journey; first-time arrests and repeats; individual and group arrests. Arrests are distinguished by the degree of surprise required, the amount of resistance expected (even though in tens of millions of cases no resistance was expected and in fact there was none). Arrests are also differentiated by the thoroughness of the required search; by instructions either to make out or not to make out an inventory of confiscated property or seal a room or apartment; to arrest the wife after the husband and send the children to an orphanage, or to send the rest of the family into exile, or to send the old folks to a labor camp too.

No, no: arrests vary widely in form. In 1926 Irma Mendel, a Hungarian, obtained through the Comintern two front-row tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre. Interrogator Klegel was courting her at the time and she invited him to go with her. They sat through the show very affectionately, and when it was over he took her -- straight to the Lubyanka. And if on a flowering June day in 1927 on Kuznetsky Most, the plump-cheeked, redheaded beauty Anna Skripnikova, who had just bought some navy-blue material for a dress, climbed into a hansom cab with a young man-about-town, you can be sure it wasn't a lovers' tryst at all, as the cabman understood very well and showed by his frown (he knew the Organs don't pay). It was an arrest. In just a moment they would turn on the Lubyanka and enter the black maw of the gates. No, one certainly cannot say that daylight arrest, arrest during a journey, or arrest in the middle of a crowd has ever been neglected in our country. However, it has always been clean-cut -- and, most surprising of all, the victims, in cooperation with the Security men, have conducted themselves in the noblest conceivable manner, so as to spare the living from witnessing the death of the condemned.

Not everyone can be arrested at home, with a preliminary knock at the door (and if there is a knock, then it has to be the house manager or else the postman). And not everyone can be arrested at work either. If the person to be arrested is vicious, then it's better to seize him outside his ordinarymilieu -- away from his family and colleagues, from those who share his views, from any hiding places. It is essential that he have no chance to destroy, hide, or pass on anything to anyone. VIP's in the military or the Party were sometimes first given new assignments, ensconced in a private railway car, and then arrested en route. Some obscure, ordinary mortal, scared to death by epidemic arrests all around him and already depressed for a week by sinister glances from his chief, is suddenly summoned to the local Party committee, where he is beamingly presented with a vacation ticket to a Sochi sanatorium. The rabbit is overwhelmed and immediately concludes that his fears were groundless. After expressing his gratitude, he hurries home, triumphant, to pack his suitcase. It is only two hours till train time, and he scolds his wife for being too slow. He arrives at the station with time to spare. And there in the waiting room or at the bar he is hailed by an extraordinarily pleasant young man: "Don't you remember me, Pyotr Ivanich?" Pyotr Ivanich has difficulty remembering: "Well, not exactly, you see, although..." The young man, however, is overflowing with friendly concern: "Come now, how can that be? I'll have to remind you.. . . " And he bows respectfully to Pyotr Ivanich's wife: "You must forgive us. I'll keep him only one minute." The wife accedes, and trustingly the husband lets himself be led away by the arm -- forever or for ten years!

The station is thronged -- and no one notices anything....Oh, you citizens who love to travel! Do not forget that in every station there are a GPU Branch and several prison cells.

This importunity of alleged acquaintances is so abrupt that only a person who has not had the wolfish preparation of camp life is likely to pull back from it. Do not suppose, for example, that if you are an employee of the American Embassy by the name of Alexander Dolgun you cannot be arrested in broad daylight on Gorky Street, right by the Central Telegraph Office. Your unfamiliar friend dashes through the press of the crowd, and opens his plundering arms to embrace you: "Saaasha!" He simply shouts at you, with no effort to be inconspicuous. "Hey, pal! Long time no see! Come on over, let's get out of the way."

The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Abridged
An Experiment in Literary Investigation
. Copyright © by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 19, 2009

    A survivor of one of history's worst terrors tells his tale.

    Accredited with helping create the avalanche that caused the ultimate downfall of Soviet communism with his bold and revealing publication, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn brings the horrors of the Stalinist regime to readers everywhere with his own testimony of his life in the Soviet corrective labor camps of the last century. Beginning with that fateful day of his arrest when his life changed forever, Solzhenitsyn brings the reader into the hell known as the Gulag and describes in detail the stages of torture and interrogation, transition and encampment, and the hard labor and life in forced servitude and unimaginable destitution suffered by millions of innocents like him, arrested for the pettiest of fancied offenses perceived by the ever-paranoid and intolerant Soviet State. With the help of eyewitness accounts of those who lived through it, the author discloses to the West the brutal methods employed in the name of 'reeducation' of their own citizens: the widespread arrest of free persons throughout the cities creating an epidemic of fear and paranoia, and entire towns dragged from their homes in the cold dark and relocated to the wilderness to die of starvation; harsh sentences given to children as young as six, and these learned the corrupt life of the thief and gangster in the survival-of-the-fittest world of the death camps; hard construction labor in the freezing tundra, all done by hand with little or no tools and twelve-hour work days with no rest and severe malnourishment, a deplorable condition in which millions died, either on site or in the grossly overcrowded prisons. He also brings to light one of the hidden secrets of World War 2: the forced return of Soviet soldiers and displaced families back into the tyrannical Bolshevik regime they had desperately sought asylum from, turned away from freedom at gunpoint by allied forces in Europe, and here is one of the greatest sorrows of all. The heroes that saved the Fatherland from the Third Reich returned not to a hero's welcome but were shackled in chains for fear that they harbored anti-Soviet sentiments, an injustice of egregious proportions. Ex-POWs were not freed but found themselves returned to incarceration by their own country. While the West applauded the fall of Hiterism and all its terrors, a regime that was far worse both in numbers killed and in duration was occurring just over the border - indeed a genocide of the country's own backbone - seemingly beyond concern or even belief of the allies and the civilized world which turned a blind eye to it. Here, the atrocities which far outweighed any other in the history of the country are documented, in small part. The author splashes the icy cold water of truth on the ignorant and oftentimes delusional West, with its progressive thinkers, in a grand indictment of one of the greatest miscalculations of the human spirit, a twisted and imparted social experiment in a misguided attempt at a greatness guised as a utopian fantasy, a system conceived by the indolent and well-fed who desire power on the backs of the ones who provide it, only to crush them mercilessly in the end, a failed and atheist theory which contradicts every aspect of existence, known as - COMMUNISM.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2006

    A Real Eye-Opener

    There are books out in the world that seem to leave a scar in your memory for the rest of your life. Books that make you feel the characters¿ pain and misery and want to cry along with them. Once this tragic book is finished, one feels relieved, and yet, surprisingly, longing to read more. The Gulag Archipelago is one of those books. It is a true story of a man who actually lived through these hard times and wrote a book about the devastating tortures of Communist Russia. The conditions these prisoners had to go through were mind blowing. Solzhenitsyn shows the living conditions of these prisoners through a variety of stories and facts compiled together in one book. The way this book is written really helps one to sense the atmosphere of the Communist situation in Russia, as seen through a Russian¿s eyes. Solzhenitsyn¿s vivid, detailed, and terrifying descriptions of how innocent people were treated in the camps they were sent to, are an eye-opening reading experience. This book helps one understand the way that Communism really worked as well as all of the misery it has caused. Communism can not be explained better than from a Russian perspective. This is a book I would definitely recommend reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2003

    Excellent!

    Solhenitsyn's language can be at times perplexing and his mannerisms range from cryptic to outright vulgar, but there is no better account of the horrors of opression than this book. This massive 'book' (seven volumes in all-whoo!) deals not only with Sozhenitsyn's personal experience but the experience of a whole slew of other '58's' (people arrested under Section 58 of the criminal code) that he meets along the way. Overall a very good, if complex, read that will keep your mind occupied far long after you turn the final page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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