Magazine article Russian Life

Gulag Boss. a Soviet Memoir

Magazine article Russian Life

Gulag Boss. a Soviet Memoir

Article excerpt

Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky, translated and edited by Deborah Kaple

(Oxford University Press, $29.95)

This book is the antidote to the chronicle of suffering that comprises most prison camp memoirs. The author was not a career NKVD man but a railway engineer by trade, and he went from college directly to building the railway to Vorkuta, using convict labor during the years 1940-44. A no-nonsense practical man, he got to know the prisoners, improved their conditions, made bargains with them (which he kept) and turned them into an effective work force. The railway was (roughly) completed, coal was provided for the Russian war effort, and Mochulslcy was recommended for the Red Banner medal. Most impressive are his descriptions of personal bravery in fighting for common sense in the face of ritualized political behavior, and winning. And in the chapter "The Real Essence of the Gulag" the author poses a series of detailed questions we would all like to put, which we can summarize here as "What was it all for? …

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