correspondent and is presently associated to the Washington Post.
For Gulag she received the Pulitzer Prize. Gulag was also a National Book Award finalist.
Gulag - a history
Most compelling thought:
"Even the bare facts recited above, although by now familiar to most Western scholars of Soviet history, have not filtered into Western popular consciousness."- Gulag (from the introduction).
Buy this book for:
I would say: simply everyone, but bear in mind that this book contains a detailed report of the cruelest and most senseless period in human existence.
Anne Applebaum has worked for The Economist as the Warshaw
A brief review of:
Anne Applebaum's Gulag knocked my wind out. This report of the single most evil thing that humanity has managed to do to itself is by far the most horrible and upsetting account I have ever read. More than once I had to lower this book to my lap and stare out the window for a bit. Then I prayed to the God whose compassion I could feel but whose omnipotence seemed as cruel as my own impotence.
Gulag - a history
GULAG is an acronym: Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei (Main Camp Administration)
"Gulag has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the "meat-grinder": the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the yeas spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths."
Like a doctor who must tell a patient that the latter has contracted incurable cancer, Anne Applebaum informs the reader in a mostly matter-of-fact but with obvious and deep empathy about the horror and madness that has kept much of Europe and most of Asia in darkness for decades: the Soviet Gulag system and the spirit of fear, betrayal, indifference and randomness (Russian Roulette-ness) that it produced.
Properly speaking, the Gulag belongs to the history of the Soviet Union; to the international as well as the Russian history of prisons and exile; and to the particular intellectual climate of continental Europe in the mid-twentieth century, which also produced the Nazi concentration camps in Germany.
But what strikes is the relentless waste and inertness of the whole Gulag monstrosity. It wasn't generated by war or resentment but purely by a faulty philosophy, coerced obedience to it and executing its impossible demands. Countless millions of human beings were destroyed by uneducated folks who were simply given a gun and place on a fence. There were sadists who found themselves in remote places, in control of herds of nameless phantoms without rights. Inmates were beaten to pulp, starved, forced to work so gruelingly that many hacked off their own hands for a few days of rest. And many of these had been respectable citizens with no criminal intend whatsoever. Members of your family could simply disappear and become one of the living dead in a camp somewhere. Your father, your sister, your wife. Applebaum tells stories that stuck to this reader's mind like visions. The strange social hierarchies of the Soviet camp system meant that women were tortured and humiliated to an extent unusual even for a prison system.
A few times Applebaum almost apologizes for not having answers to the most pressing question of why a government would do a thing like that to its own people, and then when the system is obviously failing, go on like a bunch of dummies for decades more. Look at a globe and check for yourself how huge a landmass was afflicted by these rabid acts of inactivity, by this fanatical torpidity.
Reading [certain reports], one can have no doubt that the Gulag bosses in Moscow knew - really and truly knew - what life was like in the camps.  In the end, nobody forced guards to rescue the young and murder the old. Nobody forced camp commanders to kill off the sick. Nobody forced the Gulag bosses in Moscow to ignore the implications of inspector's reports. Yet such decisions were made openly, every day, by guards and administrators apparently convinced that they had the right to make them.
After thorough and very well written analyses of the origins of the Gulag, life and work in the camps, and its slow down-fall towards its undoing, Applebaum epilogizes on memory and memorial. She notices how little is done in the sense of museums or memorial sites and how nobody seems to want to talk about the issue. Maybe that will still happen.
For now Anne Applebaum's study of the Gulag must stand among very few studies of its caliber. Both a tribute to the victims and a landmark for their posterity, this book must be read by everyone. We owe it to the victims but also to ourselves and to our children. These events must teach us about our own identity and our capabilities, lest it happens again in some way or other.
A personal note on why memorials may be so scarce
The Second World War had been concluded twenty-two years prior to my birth in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands, but I remember growing up with that war as with memories as fresh as last night's dreams. The atrocities were still discussed. There were yearly liberation fests and days of remembering the fallen. There were books and documentaries, statues and memorials. We played in abandoned bunkers, not cowboys and Indians, but us versus the Germans.
Now that I am forty, I realize what a very short time twenty-two years is. For a nation, it is impossible to forget even the smallest details of a rape that took five years to unfold.
When I moved to Poland - according to Applebaum the country which supplied so many hundreds of thousands of prisoners for Soviet camps and exile villages - communism had ended fifteen years earlier. The countries of the former Soviet Block suffered a rape that lasted ten times as long as the German occupancy of the Netherlands and it hasn't been over long enough to view the consequences objectively and without either the blood boiling indignation or languid apathy of any rape victim. A nation can not be asked to remember something that can not yet be forgotten, especially since rapist and victim must remain adjacent, and also because in December 2001, on the tenth anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, thirteen of the fifteen former Soviet republics were run by former communists...
The people of the former Soviet Block have been worked over in any possible way: they have been killed, maimed, stolen from, humiliated and kept paralyzed with the fear of the double mortality of death and exile. No neighbor or family member could be trusted. There simply was no relief. There was no oasis. The maddening injustice resulted in bitterness and habitual mistrust. It will take one or two generations to outgrow the trauma and to look upon the Soviet era as past. Then, when people will regain the courage to acknowledge their history, works like Anne Applebaum's Gulag will be found a treasure.
Today we see mature capitalism having a wild go at an infant democracy, and the suffocating grip of commerce squeezes the people dry of their last drips of dignity. The run for the money has amassed the momentum of a steam roller, and the weak are getting left behind. And the Gulag? We receive startling reports of work camps in the west where Polish kids are made to work too many hours, put to rest in unheated shacks, shot or raped if they refuse to work or want to go home. Huge and untouchable countries that can still afford it still pronounce war on the invisible 'enemy of the state' and build secret prisons on newly allied ground such as our beloved Poland.
Auschwitz is a mere two hour car trip away from my home. SS, KGB, CIA, what's the difference?
This project depends on gifts from readers like you.