After such knowledge, what numbness?
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 17 December 2018
It is a biological mercy that the human body does not remember pain exactly, although one must live with the consequences of wounding and maiming. Likewise, there are certain traumas that one can understand but never truly comprehend if they have not been experienced first-hand. The nightmare of the Gulag is one of them, and thank heaven you can read and then exhale, go out, do the shopping, see your friends etc.
Anyone used to Russian literature, especially Dostoevsky, will have no trouble readin this true tale of woe, and anyone unfamiliar with the Russian master will also live through the abridged one-volume reduction of the vast 1,700 three-volume Gulag Archipelago from which this paperback is culled. Culled! Yes, indeed. There is a blend of literary sensibility and journalistic reportage, combined with the classic Russian macabre humour, that positively enables the reading of this account of the unparalleled suffering of the Russian people under the Soviet system. A common hyperbolic adjective is 'indescribable', often missapplied. IT IS DESCRIBED, VIVIDLY, but what it is not is comprehensible. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is a TV programme that I think broadcast cartoon images drawn inside the camps, illustrating the horrific cruelties meeted (sic) out by the inmates alone, which are a fraction of the reality. And the reader's mind must read and understand and not comprehend, or else suicide through despair would be the likely outcome.
Thank heavens for the humour. Humour allows us to bear-up with anything. I'm reminded of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony with its verses in praise of humour. He truly is an excellent fellow. There's less humour in the incendiary foreword to this book provided by Canada's favourite intelligencer, Dr/Prof. Jordan Peterson. Like many, I'm sure, I was led to/reminded of this literary masterpiece by Peterson's frequent referencing of this text in both his academic lectures and public talks criticising the Left-wing when it is out of control. He really is furious that this book, and the reality which inspired it, are not common knowledge in the West. One can't help wondering if the reported mass hysteria and SJW (Social Justice Warrior) madness on US/Canada university campuses might not be diluted irrevocably by even the first paragraph of the chapter entitled 'Interrogation'. The cruelties doled out by the Soviet authorities are nothing short of ASTOUNDING! The brutalities. The hatred without boundaries, and no-one immune, no-one safe from arrest in the name of the quotas, and in the name of the Great Shepherd of the people, Stalin. STALIN! This book makes the Nazis look like pussycats, WW1 a vacation, the Holocaust an act of mercy. YOU CAN'T COMPREHEND!, BUT YOU MUST READ! READ AND UNDERSTAND, you well-meaning Lefties. This is what The People can come to.
I'm making brisk progress through this nightmare, surprisingly, and expect to finish within a few days. If nothing else, you'll think twice before complaining about your hard and unfair existence, after reading about construction work undertaken at 50 below zero, without any proper tools, and only your pyjamas to wear, and no shoes.
And no, the Brits don't come out of this smelling of roses, nor the Yanks. Everybody was complicit, to some small degree, if only out of wide-eyed vacancy of mind, gullibility, and bloody-minded credulity.
Desribing Hell has always been more vivid an experience than describing Heaven. Here is Hell on Earth.
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