The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II

Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


ISBN: 9780060803322
Pages: 660
Description: I went for a walk this afternoon, strolling around the unfamiliar student district near Chosun University. It was pleasant just to be out and about, looking at stuff, breathing in air lightly spiced with the peculiar sewage-and-market smells of urban Korea. As I often do, I stopped off at a café, where I sat and dicked around on my iPad for an hour. Then I came home and put on a load of laundry. And that was about it.

Is my itinerary of any conceivable interest to anyone? Hardly. But listen now: in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, it’s recorded that a certain Cheka interrogator used to line up naked prisoners, make them bend over, and then deliver flying ‘football kicks’ to their exposed testicles. Solzhenitsyn says the men usually passed out from the pain.

I don’t know if there’s a lesson here, other than the usual one about the everlasting shittiness of our species. But I choose to take a very simple message away from this story: any day on which your testicles are not being used for soccer practice is probably, on the whole, a pretty good one. That may sound horribly flippant, but Solzhenitsyn himself makes a similar point elsewhere in the book, claiming that it was precisely his years in the camps that gave him access to the miracle of normalcy, of mundanity.

So coming back to my blah, unblogworthy day: this quotidian bullshit—wandering around, drinking coffee, downloading sitcoms from iTunes—this is what it’s supposed to be like. This is fucking felicity. That vague, low-level dread you feel is just the background hum of a healthy, contented existence.

Hmm. The phrase ‘count your blessings’ seems to hover here. Have I just taken the scenic route to a cliché? Looks that way. I need to read more Kierkegaard.

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