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Gulag: A History
2004 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
Synopses & Reviews
The Gulag—the vast array of Soviet concentration camps—was a system of repression and punishment whose rationalized evil and institutionalized inhumanity were rivaled only by the Holocaust.
The Gulag entered the worlds historical consciousness in 1972, with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyns epic oral history of the Soviet camps, The Gulag Archipelago. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dozens of memoirs and new studies covering aspects of that system have been published in Russia and the West. Using these new resources as well as her own original historical research, Anne Applebaum has now undertaken, for the first time, a fully documented history of the Soviet camp system, from its origins in the Russian Revolution to its collapse in the era of glasnost. It is an epic feat of investigation and moral reckoning that places the Gulag where it belongs: at the center of our understanding of the troubled history of the twentieth century.
Anne Applebaum first lays out the chronological history of the camps and the logic behind their creation, enlargement, and maintenance. The Gulag was first put in place in 1918 after the Russian Revolution. In 1929, Stalin personally decided to expand the camp system, both to use forced labor to accelerate Soviet industrialization and to exploit the natural resources of the countrys barely habitable far northern regions. By the end of the 1930s, labor camps could be found in all twelve of the Soviet Unions time zones. The system continued to expand throughout the war years, reaching its height only in the early 1950s. From 1929 until the death of Stalin in 1953, some 18 million people passed through this massive system. Of these 18 million, it is estimated that 4.5 million never returned.
But the Gulag was not just an economic institution. It also became, over time, a country within a country, almost a separate civilization, with its own laws, customs, literature, folklore, slang, and morality. Topic by topic, Anne Applebaum also examines how life was lived within this shadow country: how prisoners worked, how they ate, where they lived, how they died, how they survived. She examines their guards and their jailers, the horrors of transportation in empty cattle cars, the strange nature of Soviet arrests and trials, the impact of World War II, the relations between different national and religious groups, and the escapes, as well as the extraordinary rebellions that took place in the 1950s. She concludes by examining the disturbing question why the Gulag has remained relatively obscure, in the historical memory of both the former Soviet Union and the West.
Gulag: A History will immediately be recognized as a landmark work of historical scholarship and an indelible contribution to the complex, ongoing, necessary quest for truth.
"Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling." Publishers Weekly
The dramatic, untold story of Lina and Serge Prokofiev, a doomed love story and a shattering portrait of an artist.
Serge Prokofiev was one of the twentieth centuryand#8217;s most brilliant composers yet is an enigma to historians and his fans. Why did he leave the West and move to the Soviet Union despite Stalinand#8217;s crimes? Why did his astonishing creativity in the 1930s soon dissolve into a far less inspiring output in his later years? The answers can finally be revealed, thanks to Simon Morrisonand#8217;s unique and unfettered access to the familyand#8217;s voluminous papers and his ability to reconstruct the tragic, riveting life of the composerand#8217;s wife, Lina.
Morrisonand#8217;s portrait of the marriage of Lina and Serge Prokofiev is the story of a remarkable woman who fought for survival in the face of unbearable betrayal and despair and of the irresistibly talented but heartlessly self-absorbed musician she married. Born to a Spanish father and Russian mother in Madrid at the end of the nineteenth century and raised in Brooklyn, Lina fell in love with a rising-star composerand#8212;and defied convention to be with him, courting public censure. She devoted her life to Serge and to art, training to be an operatic soprano and following her brilliant husband to Stalinand#8217;s Russia. Just as Serge found initial acclaimand#8212;before becoming constricted by the harsh doctrine of socialist-realist musicand#8212;Lina was at first accepted and later scorned, ending her singing career. Serge abandoned her and took up with another woman. Finally, Lina was arrested and shipped off to the gulag in 1948. She would be held in captivity for eight awful years. Meanwhile, Serge found himself the tool of an evil regime to which he was forced to accommodate himself.
The contrast between Lina and Serge is one of strength and perseverance versus utter self-absorption, a remarkable human drama that draws on the forces of art, sacrifice, and the struggle against oppression. Readers will never forget the tragic drama of Linaand#8217;s life, and never listen to Sergeand#8217;s music in quite the same way again.
The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.
About the Author
Anne Applebaum was born in Washington, D.C., received a bachelor’s degree from Yale, and studied at Saint Antony’s College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics on a Marshall scholarship. In 1988, she moved to Poland to work for the Economist, and a few years later became foreign editor, then deputy editor, of the Spectator. Her work has also appeared in the New York Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, Slate and other British and American publications. She is the author of one previous book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe. After living for more than fifteen years in Europe, she joined the editorial board of the Washington Post in 2002 and now lives in Washington, D.C.
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History and Social Science » Crime » Prisons and Prisoners