54 of 66 people found the following review helpful
An important work, but not to be undertaken lightly,
This review is from: The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Volume One) (Paperback)
The Gulag Archipelago is certainly one of the important books of the 20th Century, and gives insight into Soviet politics, life under the Soviet regime, and especially, life in the Gulag and in transit thereto. The depth in which it covers these subjects is far greater than that available in public education or the popular press. As such, I regard this is a must-read for any student of Soviet history, Soviet politics, politics of resistance or revolution, politics in general, or even penology for that matter.
However, I think that for any but the most devoted reader, this book will be a very heavy read, and I imagine that nearly all students who are forced to read it find their suffering tolerable only because of the much greater travails borne by the characters in the book. I must wonder if the positive reviews this book has received are more due to the sense of accomplishment one feels after finishing the book than an appreciation for the writing.
Though it is commonly regarded as a novel, it is thinly veiled as such, and is for the most part basically a first and second hand description of the Gulag, and the Soviet Union from the end stages of the Russian Revolution through the Stalin era. It does not read like a novel, but more as a somewhat disjointed series of narrative accounts along similar themes combining to form a larger picture. Though I haven't read any other translations, there were various points within the book when I wondered if there might perhaps be a better on out there. I suspect not, however, as it is my impression that Solzhenitsyn intended this to be not a novel, but a massive collection of narratives interspersed with his own political sentiments, and the disjointed nature is likely not the fault of the translator.
This is not to say that this book is not good. To the contrary, it is a classic. I highly recommend it highly to a serious student of the disciplines mentioned above. But if what you are looking for is a novel describing life in the Gulag, you would be far better served to read Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which is in fact such a novel. Further, it offers a very vivid account of a prisoner's perspective on the Gulag, is a much lighter read, and is put together in a much more readable format. (Note that Ivan Denisovich) goes much lighter on the politics, without the digressions for accounts of show trials and such characteristic of Gulag Archipelago.)