Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum

GulagI think that this is the only book that I have ever bought at an airport. I was on my way to visit my father for his 80th birthday in 2005, he was in Ecuador doing voluntary work! Not the most suitable holiday reading, but very appropriate considering that dad had been deported from Poland in 1940 at the age of 14 to do forced labour on the kolkhozy (collective farms) of Kazakhstan for 2 years. The hard work, starvation and cold did not leave any long term health effects, but made him determined to make a success of life – which he did in a big way. He spoke little of his experiences until late in life when he told me of his war experiences, but that is for another day.

Applebaum’s book is a very comprehensive study starting with the three centuries of forced labour brigades in Siberia, concentrating on the big expansion following the Russian Revolution in 1918 leading to maximum numbers in the 1950s, and charting their demise in the late 1980s. It contains new research from Soviet records and personal interviews of gulag survivors. It is an excellent reference book.

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