Notes from the Gulag

If you have never read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn–or only read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich–then more pleasure awaits you. Keep in mind that he is Russian, and thus tends towards long books. But like Tolstoy, the pages are full of life:

“Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somersault from one state into another.
We have been happily borne — or perhaps have unhappily
dragged our weary way— down the long and crooked streets of
our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood, rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings. We have never given a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to penetrate them with our vision or our understanding. But there is where the Gulag country begins, right next to us, two yards away from us.

In addition, we have failed to notice an enormous number of closely fitted, well-disguised doors and gates in these
fences. All those gates were prepared for us, every last one! And all of a sudden the fateful gate swings quickly open, and four white male hands, unaccustomed to physical labor but nonetheless strong and tenacious, grab us by the leg, arm, collar, cap, ear, and drag us in like a sack, and the gate behind us, the gate to our past life, is slammed shut once and for all.
That’s all there is to it! You are arrested!
And you’ll find nothing better to respond with than a lamblike
bleat: “Me? What for?”
That’s what arrest is: it’s a blinding flash and a blow which
shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into omnipotent actuality.
That’s all. And neither for the first hour nor for the first day will you be able to grasp anything else.
Except that in your desperation the fake circus moon will blink
at you: “It’s a mistake! They’ll set things right!” ”
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


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