I read The Gulag Archipelago books when I was in my late teens. Maybe 16 or 17 years old. My mother found them for me at a used bookstore when I was around 14. I’d never heard of them before then and they’d never been mentioned in my school’s history classes. The fact that they weren’t and in many schools still aren’t required reading is almost a crime.
They were hard reads and they actually gave me nightmares while I was reading them, but I never regretted reading them. I still have the first two buried in a box somewhere in my attic. The third got eaten by a lab puppy who had issues. I’ve traded a lot of books in for others, but these I wanted to keep.
If anyone ever wants to see what a nightmare looks like when described on a printed page; find those books. If anyone ever tells you that we don’t need to really explain in our schools exactly what some of these dictatorships were like for their victims; give them these books.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who has died at the age of 89, played a significant role in ending communism. His novels were beautifully crafted, damning indictments of the repressive Soviet regime.
Born into a family of Cossack intellectuals, Alexander Solzhenitsyn graduated in mathematics and physics, but within weeks the Soviet Union was fighting Hitler for its survival.
Solzhenitsyn served as an artillery officer and was decorated for his courage, but in 1945 was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter.
He spent the next eight years as one of the countless men enduring the gulags. He was one of the lucky ones to survive.
There followed a period of internal exile in Kazakhstan during which Solzhenitsyn was successfully treated for stomach cancer.