About Gulag Archipelago

Just a little observation.

When published in paperback it was in three volumes. The full one that is.

That first volume is really easy to find second hand. Used (some time ago to be sure) to clog up second hand and tat bookshops.

The second volume was harder to find, quite rare in fact.

The third volume, not sure I’ve even seen it on Amazon.

I assume that sales rather dropped off for the later volumes….

15 thoughts on “About Gulag Archipelago”

  1. Perhaps they were the volumes in which he described how uplifting and inspiring the whole system was and how it provided a ladder out of decrepitude laziness and capitalist running doggyness, and how it was so much more educational than a third rate English University.

    Which is why nobody ever realised.

  2. My understanding was that he intended it to be ultimately redemptive, with a narrative arc starting with the horrors of the gulag but ending with the indomitable human spirit finding ways to survive and give meaning to life even in Siberian slave camps.

    But the first part was so fucking depressing no one read the rest.

  3. Solzhenitsyn is overrated as a writer: plodding, humourless, prolix and bleak Russian wind-baggery….There is little that is life-enhancing in his works; and the information they contain is more readily available elsewhere.

    As for the GA, Dr Johnson’s remark about ‘Paradise Lost’ is pertinent here: “Nobody ever wished it was longer”.

    In general, economy of expression in the arts is a (but, obviously, not the only) virtue. For instance, Mahler’s symphonies became increasingly long and turgid, while Sibelius’ symphonies became shorter and tighter – the 7th being only 20 minutes long.

  4. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong


    Sorry but the eighth was an unchallenged act of musical genius.

    The ninth is, I agree, merely listenable-to.

  5. The odd thing thing is that although Solzhenitsyn catalogued the horrors of the system in ever greater detail – after volume 1, the detail increases and it just seems ever more incredible that people survived – he still had faith in the system itself. He could not believe in a better world than scientific socialism despite the empirical evidence

  6. When they were sold as individual paperback books, I suspect that the “Fellowship of the Ring” outsold “Return of the King” for the same reason.

    Probably not as disproportionately as the difference between Gulag Archipelago though.

  7. “When they were sold as individual paperback books, I suspect that the “Fellowship of the Ring” outsold “Return of the King” for the same reason.”
    If you drip into http://www.librarything.com you can see that play out in stats from the members of that site. For GA you have to pick through different editions, but headline figures are:
    3748 | 1102 | 543

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