The three-volume book is a narrative relying on eyewitness testimony and primary research material, as well as the author’s own experiences as a prisoner in a gulag labor camp. Written between 1958 and 1968, it was published in the West in 1973, thereafter circulating in samizdat (underground publication) form in the Soviet Union until its official publication in 1989.
Structurally, the text is made up of seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labour camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956, starting with V.I. Lenin’s original decrees shortly after the October Revolution establishing the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labour. It describes and discusses the waves of purges, assembling the show trials in context of the development of the greater Gulag system with particular attention to the legal and bureaucratic development.
The legal and historical narrative ends in 1956, the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech at the 20th Party Congress of 1956 denouncing Stalin’s personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era.
I have read this work back in the late 1990’s. It was a rather long & arduous task, but it was a very enlightening literary work which opened my eyes concerning much of my understanding of the Russian Empire during Stalin’s time. When I walked away from this work of literary genius my eyes were wide open with the notion, “A good Russian is a Russian who spent at least 10 years in the Gulag System!”
Godspeed & Good Reads!