Books on the Siberian gulag, ca 1939?
May 25, 2011 10:01 PM   Subscribe

What are the best English-language books about life in the Siberian gulag at the end of the 1930s?
posted by Marquis to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Parts of Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales were translated to English and published in book form.
posted by Maximian at 10:11 PM on May 25, 2011

Best answer: Victor Herman's story Coming Out of the Ice reaches through many decades, but he was put in prison in 1938.
posted by SantosLHalper at 11:20 PM on May 25, 2011

Anne Applebaum wrote a Pulitzer-winning history of the gulags (Gulag) and while it doesn't exclusively focus on the 30s, it does cover them. It's a pretty comprehensive history of the gulags and a significant chunk is focused on life in the system, from arrest onward, including the time period in which you are interested.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 11:40 PM on May 25, 2011

I agree with the suggestions posted above and would add.

The Gulag Archipelago vols 1-3 by Solzhenitsyn, more commonly available in a 1 volume abridged form.

A World Apart by Gustav Herling. I would say this is the best actual memoir of a Gulag survivor I've read.
posted by selton at 3:28 AM on May 26, 2011

The Gulag Archipelago is written in a lively engaging style and is easy to find. Not limited to the 30's.
posted by ovvl at 4:38 AM on May 26, 2011

although set after the war, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich would have to be one of the most hauntingly bleak pieces of p[rose ever written.
posted by the noob at 4:43 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: > although set after the war, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich would have to be one of the most hauntingly bleak pieces of p[rose ever written.

But it is not set at the end of the 1930s, which phrase the poster italicized presumably to avoid suggestions like that. I suspect the poster has heard of Solzhenitsyn and his most famous book.

Anne Applebaum's Gulag is excellent and should be your basic resource. It has three sections, the first up to WWII, the second a general description of life in the camps, and the third postwar; by following up her references you can compile as detailed a reading list as you like. She is scrupulous about chronology and footnotes everything.

Shalamov is a great writer and his book is one of the best accounts (even Solzhenitsyn deferred to him on the topic of Kolyma), but 1) it's not confined to the end of the 1930s (though he was arrested then), and 2) it's fictionalized. The Gulag Archipelago is a magnificent resource, but (obviously) isn't a scholarly work with an apparatus of footnotes but the product of one man's courageous and impassioned work of memory and interviewing, and it's not always clear what happened at what time.
posted by languagehat at 7:50 AM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Eugenia Ginzburg was arrested in 1937, though her imprisonment lasted 18 years. She detailed her arrest, "trial," and transport to Siberia in Journey into the Whirlwind. Her second book, Within the Whirlwind, describes her experience in Siberia.

Journey into the Whirlwind is an incredibly gripping account. Ginzburg arrived in Siberia in 1939, so that is within your parameters.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:25 AM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding Ginzburg. "Journey into the Whirlwind" is amazing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:06 PM on May 26, 2011

The early sections of Slawomir Rawicz's landmark though controversial escape memoir -- recently turned into a film by Peter Weir -- land just within your time-frame. See especially chapter 7, "Life in Camp 303."
posted by taramosalata at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2011

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