The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn is like no other book. He is right when he claims this to be the first of its kind an experiment in literary investigation. What did I expect when beginning this book? A list of crimes against humanity, a memoir of suffering and trials, a catalog of pains for posterity’s sake. Yes, this is what I expected, as opened the book: a grim work of non-fiction one should read to be ready, forewarned, prepared – it could happen to you!
The book is all of that but it is also much more. It is grim, at parts unthinkable but it is not unrelenting. It delves into man’s heart and faces it in all its light and darkness. It condemns evil yet it rejoices in the refining fires of suffering, of prison itself! It reads like a story, but it is also a history, a documentation and tribute to those who suffered under the Soviet Regime, certainly it is an exploration in journalism.
Solzhenitsyn’s writings reveals the power of memory, literature, poetry and Rosary beads made from dried bread. I will never look at a book in the same way after reading about the joy one prisoner had when given a book to read. How he proceeded to memorize as much as he could before the treasure was taken away. The prisoner later attributed his sanity to that book! I will l never look at a poem in the same way either. For imprisoned men became imprisoned poets, composing and memorizing their compositions meticulously, methodically line by line for lack of pen and paper. How many poets died there? How many died with unheard beauty metered in memory ? And humbled, I finger my glass rosary beads with greater love and tuck it into my pocket with greater care.
It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done, writing this book in secret, never actually seeing his work in one place. Its publication is a literary miracle! Horrors fill these pages, but not despair. Solzhenitsyn shares the stories of thousands of humans in hope that they will live on somehow. And they will. These stories will forever be with me.
-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.