The Gulag Archipelago: Audiobook Review


December 28, 2020

The Gulag Archipelago is a singular piece of literature about the horrors of arbitrary arrest, inhumane interrogations, prolonged imprisonments, deadly work camps and exile that impacted tens of millions of people in the first half of the twentieth century. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has a way of conveying these horrors in a truly compelling way; somehow the descriptions of torture are close and detailed enough to be vivid, varied enough to be somewhat comprehensive, yet not repetitive nor gratuitous. I listened to an Audiobook version, read by the author’s son Ignat Solzhenitsyn, based on a (translation of the) one volume abridgement of the original 3 volume work, which was still 24 hours long.

I highly recommend this book. What struck me most is how a large proportion of people persecuted their fellow countrymen and women on completely spurious charges; from those that ran the camps and the system, to those that reported “political” offences, to those that passively stood by. The horrors these people were subjected to makes me think of the people currently being persecuted in my own society, to no means to the same extent, in prisons and refugee camps. I don’t know much about these people; who is there, how they got there, how they are being treated and what their life may look like after release. The book in this sense reminds me of First they came… about Nazi Germany.

As one small point I think about the recent failed attempt to ban mobile phones in immigration detention centres. If this was in place then there is no way that Behrouz Boochani could have won the Victorian prize for literature for a book written in a detention centre on his mobile phone; No Friends but the Mountains. This resonates with how Solzhenitsyn had to hide his book across different locations as he wrote it, in case the authorities would confiscate and destroy it.