16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2010
Recently while wandering around my college's campus, I came across a rack of books which the school was donating for free to whoever wanted them. A quick scan revealed nothing much of interest at all, that is, except for one book, the hugest book on any of the shelves. No chance of this being just a coincidence as you can imagine my surprise when I saw Solzhenitsyn's name on it in big red letters, he is my favorite author.
You could read this book without reading Volumes One or Three, but you would be doing yourself a great disservice by doing so. For me, Volume Two is more of a reward in a sense for completing Volume One. It contains parts three (The Destructive Labor Camps) and four (The Soul and Barbed Wire). In my opinion, The Soul and Barbed Wire is the best part out of the whole Gulag Archipelago. Further, it might be the deepest writing ever written. This is really where Solzhenitsyn condenses and shares the spiritual gems which years in the concentration camps have taught him. Yes you could start with Volume Two if you want and get something out of it, but no you would not know what is going on in the first place. This would be like wandering into a theater in the middle of a Forrest Gump showing, where you had never seen that movie and it is already half over; yes you would enjoy it but Forrest would look simply like a dummy rambling to himself, you wouldn't be able to discern what was really going on. Obviously you should read the Volumes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag in order.
Don't underestimate this memoir, there is a reason why Time Magazine said that this is the best nonfiction book written during the twentieth century, though really you owe it to yourself to read the whole Gulag Archipelago from beginning to end. It will teach you lifelong lessons about human behavior, morals, cruelty, endurance and spirituality, lessons which you can't find anywhere else and which you will never in your lifetime forget. I will say this, as far as the most meaningful books that I have ever known, this book came in a close second next to the Holy Bible in first. Actually come to think of it, that would be a disservice to the 66 million good souls who are murdered in communist Russia, I'll say that this book ties with the Bible for the best book ever written. If you're looking for that one great book to read this year, you need to make it this one, because it needs to be read now during these times, more so than ever before, Endure. Enjoy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2012
The first volume of the three volume series was fantastic. Depressing but well written and honest; which is something that Solzhenitsyn would not have changed, but there are differences:
Firstly, there are more pictures, which is interesting and helps well to illustrate. No surprises there, though some seem irrelevant and I guess they are more for the author than for the reader, although they do serve to backup what is being said in that one can see that the places and the people existed (even if you don't know for sure they are who/what you are told they are, but why wouldn't you believe?)
Second, possibly for the worse, the footnote system has changed, which is fine but does break the routine from the previous book. Nonetheless this is easily adjusted to, though initially I did find it grating in that the translater kept drawing to a section in the book rather than summarily declaring at the end as he had in the first book. No big deal, earmark the section to save yourself some time.
Thirdly, the book is still broken up into parts and inside those individual chapters, but it feels different in that it is very clear what Solzhenitsyn is discussing with far less overlap between the topics. In many ways this has to be a good thing, but despite this in book separation there are so many instances of deja vu where you feel something already discussed is rehashed again.
With a book on a topic of this magnitude, this would have to be impossible and for the most part the style in which it is written (as though the reader is being told the story in a one on one conversation) helps soften the blow. You accept these tangents or callbacks as you would in a conversation, but occasionally the ... let's say "folksy", back of a tavern style of telling a story so grimm does get in the way and grate, though these times pass.
What struck me as far more harmful to the cause of the book was that the tone has changed. It is almost defeatist and defeated in places and a great sadness soaks through. Clearly this was present to some extent in Volume One and is only natural, but this book dealing so much more with the human impact (rather than merely experience, as I recall the fist book), which makes this a much more depressing read than the first book did.
Solzhenitsyn does turn this around somewhat with the last part of the book, though it is hard to put my finger on just how he does it. It ends up being a slightly more upbeat reading probably mostly because it goes back from talking about huge human impacts to concrete individual ones and discussing the impact it had on him and how he is grateful to have experienced it, while relating how others who have not experienced it, fail to appreciate the whole impact it had. In short, in this final part I felt he challenged our preconceptions and made me think more than anything to that point (in this volume) which more related how (especially) people were ruined and mistreated.
Overall, the read of this book was much slower, despite the individual topics being really well addressed. To some point I had less time to devote to this volume than I did the first, but I found myself less willing to pick it up. Another issue here may well have been that I should have read something else between volume one and two and will do so with volume three.
As other reviewers have said, it is a shame less people have read this book, and I agree. It isn't an easy read but it makes you think and puts history, maybe not in a new light, but certainly into a different tone. This title remains relevant and important, and one would argue it will never cease to be. The only advice besides "read it" I feel I must offer is "but read something else between Volume one and two".
Finally, as far as stars go, I am struggling between 3 and 5: On the one hand reading straight after volume one this was so depressing, so a 3. On the other it is the same relevance and mastery the first volume that was offered by the prior volume, so a 5. I'm settling on a 4 because that's the average but also, because while everyone should read this title, the first title is probably enough to paint a grimm enough picture for most people. Though do not let that cheapen this work, everyone should read this ... though maybe not straight away.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2011
I'm the only person I know that has read volumes 2 and 3. Many more are familiar with volume 1. Reading the 3 took me over 2 years and several times I cried while reading. This is the only book you ever need to read about oppression. Oppressive thugs have no imagination and have used the same methods since Babylonian times. To wit:
- Divide with hatred and suspicion
- Isolate individuals and convince them that there is no hope
- Tag all dissent as insanity
- Rewrite history
- Encourage personal betrayals
- Use of torture mental and physical
- Encourage poor morality and use breeches of morality as an excuse for punishment
It doesn't surprise me that people who are unfamiliar with these methods are prone to be victimized by them.