Not so long ago I asked the author what he was reading. Young's reply:
A lot of my reading lately has come in an effort to fill gaps in my knowledge of history, especially recent history. With that goal in mind, I’ve begun reading The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume nonfiction work about the Soviet prison camp system and his own years as a political prisoner.Visit Thomas W. Young's website and blog.
As Anne Applebaum’s foreword points out, The Gulag Archipelago is itself a part of history, having first been circulated in the author’s home country in unbound, hand-typed form. Solzhenitsyn describes how a nighttime knock on the door could catapult practically any Soviet citizen from the embrace of family to the torments of the gulag. The victims often had no idea why. A petty rivalry or an incautious word could ruin a life. And, as the author puts it, arrests could race through a town like an epidemic.
To judge from Solzhenitsyn’s case, Stalin’s government feared its own citizens more than it feared the Nazis. While the author served as a young artillery captain, Soviet counterintelligence officers plucked him from the battlefield and sent him to prison for criticizing the government in his private correspondence.
He became an eloquent and unstoppable witness to the excesses of a paranoid regime, relating his thoughts and experiences in both fiction and nonfiction. When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, he chose not to go to Stockholm to accept the award in person for fear that Soviet authorities would not let him back into his home country.
As a writer, I read The Gulag Archipelago with a great sigh of relief that I live where I can express myself freely. My novels deal with real-world conflicts involving the military; under a different system of government, my books might draw the wrong kind of attention. I can’t help but wonder whether I’d have Solzhenitsyn’s courage if the circumstances required it.