This book I bought for two reasons; firstly it was in my version of '1001 books to read before you die' and secondly because I knew that I would be studying the relevent period of Russian history this year. It lived up to my expectations and did more or less what it said it would; described one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, from the moment that he woke up until the moment he went to sleep.
In history I've been studying Nazi Germany parallel to Russia, therefore I have a reasonable understanding of the Nazi Concentration camps whilst finding that the equivalent in Russia, the Gulag, are mentioned but never with any detail or depth. Because of the fact that they are in some respects described as being the same you find yourself making the assumption that they are Carbon copies of one another. However, after reading this book, you find that you can pick out a variety of differences, as well as similarities, between the two. It fascinated me.
A year ago I read Primo Levi's 'If this is a Man', and I found myself drawing parallels with it as I read this book, this is unsuprising when you consider that one was written by a survivor of Auschwitz while the other was written by a survivor of a Gulag. I found a number of differences between the two; the first was that the prisoners in the Gulag's appeared to be valued more, possibly because they weren't classified as a sub-race, they were given more to eat. Secondly they appeared to be less supervised than in the Nazi camp except for when they were being moved to and from work-sites. Thirdly, a prisoner in Soviet Russia was actually able to fulfill his term, and go home, although it was likely to be to exile. One interesting quote I found was;
'Now he didn't know either whether he wanted freedom or not.'
There were similarities to be found as well; Both camps apparantly had similar bartering systems between the prisoners; There was a similar hierarchy amongst the prisoners although the Gulag one was based more upon respect than the one in concentration camps which were built upon fear and hatred; and there appears to have been a similar attitude that you should live for the day but scrounge for the morrow and that above all you should keep your pride intact because that's what the camps were designed to drain.
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