Gulag memoirs: a new project catalogues troves of carceral literature

Gulag memoirs: a new project catalogues troves of carceral literature
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974 (Image: Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo under a CC licence)

5 September 2016

In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous Gulag Archipelago, the horrors of the Soviet network of forced labour camps known as the Gulag are described in devastating details. It’s Solzhenitsyn’s name — and often only his — that comes to mind when considering Gulag literature, but there are many more works written from incarceration which haven’t received such public acclaim.

A new project launched today by the academic Sarah Young is set to challenge that; Young has compiled a catalogue of over 750 works described as “Gulag memoirs and narratives” from during the Soviet Union. A lecturer in the Russian department of University College London, Young says that the the works currently compiled “barely scratch the surface”. There aren’t just hundreds more; there are thousands, she writes.

While the current catalogue includes works from Soviet-era incarceration, Young aims to continue expanding the bibliography to eventually include those from the Tsarist and post-Soviet eras. The goal, she writes on her blog, is to compile a “comprehensibve bibliography of published Russian carceral narratives”.

It’s an ambitious project and one that is given renewed salience in light of the continued unwillingness in Russian officialdom to fully and publically reckon with some of the darker chapters of Soviet history.