0085 | Gulag: A History – Anne Applebaum


Context: Finished on the Trans-Mongolian railway somewhere in the Gobi desert.

A very compelling description of the infamous Russian camp system which strikes a great balance between the politico-historical background and the daily lives of the inmates.

It was amazing to think that, as I sped towards Siberia, I was going to be covering ground very close to the locations of many of the camps in the book. Not only that but surely the exiles used the same train line I was travelling on at some point. Fascinating.Applebaum has written an excellent book here.

It’s in three parts beginning with a brief historical overview of how the camps came into being and their rationale. She then moves on to what is the most moving and heartbreaking part of the book. The central section is two thirds of the book and she details each and every aspect of prison life from arrest to death. She draws heavily on memoirs of prisoners, some of which I’d already read such as Solzhenitsyn. More importantly though, she fills the pages with extracts and data from recently released archives of the KGB which both reinforce and, in some cases, water down more anecdotal history that the memoirs consist of.

She wraps it all up with the history of the political changes that saw the camps change from the Stalinist era through Kruschev’s reforms and then into the 1980s when they were officially closed.Well-organised, well-written and well-recommended. I add my recommendation to those of others.

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

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