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New Left Review I/85, May-June 1974

Roy Medvedev

On Gulag Archipelago

In this article I shall try to provide an evaluation of Solzhenitsyn’s new book. The assessment can only be a brief and preliminary one—not merely because Gulag Archipelago is only the first of three or four volumes of a single work, but also because even by itself it is too considerable to be adequately appraised straightaway. The book is full of frightening facts: it would be difficult to grasp even a much smaller number of them immediately. Solzhenitsyn describes in concrete detail the tragic fate of hundreds of people, destinies both extraordinary and yet typical of what has befallen us in the past decades. His book contains many reflections and observations that are profound and truthful, and others which may not be correct, but are nevertheless always born from the monstrous sufferings of millions of people, in an agony unique in the age-old history of our nation. No man who left that terrible Archipelago was the same as he who entered it, either in body and health or in ideas about life and people. I believe that no-one who has read this book will remain the same person as he was when he opened its first pages. There is nothing in Russian or world literature in this respect which I can compare with Solzhenitsyn’s work.

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Roy Medvedev, ‘On Gulag Archipelago’, NLR I/85: £3

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