Skating on thin ice in Beartown

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

beartown

This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write… Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic but NO JOKE I had trouble with this one and I’m so frickin nervous about sharing my thoughts guys. Part of this comes down to the fact that I had a lot of mixed feelings about the book and still felt the desire to rate it:

4/5 bananas

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I know that a lot of what follows will be confusing and I guarantee some people will walk away dissatisfied with my position here- either because they feel I shouldn’t voice my opinion in response to this book or because they won’t consider me strident enough in my rating. It’s really a lose lose situation for me, I must say, but I don’t think pre-emptive irritation is something I should take out on what was in fact a very well written book.

Because I was impressed by a lot of it. Kudos to the author, he’s very skilled and I was immediately blown away by the writing. There were so many layers to the story and characters that I found myself easily wrapped up in it. I am always admiring of books that can transport me so fully to a place you would never discover on your own- and Beartown felt a million miles away and yet so close to home. The characters felt beautiful and authentic. I could sense the serious issues lurking under the ice, ready to crack at any moment and I appreciated the chills that tension gave me. It was a little on the slow side and it took a while to get to the “I really can’t put this down” part, but that was okay, I could see this getting 4.5-5 bananas from me.

And then the scandal hit, at around 50% of the way in, and I started to have problems. I had some, shall we say, philosophical differences with the questions it raised and the answers it appeared to direct the reader towards. It began to feel borderline propagandistic, with lines from actual political campaigns plastered into the plot in a very noticeable way. But before we get into what that was, I’m going to politely ask the easily offended to *look away*, or just people who don’t want SPOILERS, and dubbing this section from here on out “You Asked For It”- where I explain, as comprehensively as I am able, my issues with said political elements. After all, if you’re entering the political arena… well then you can expect some differing opinions.

You Asked For It AKA The Spoiler Section

What I dislike most about this book is what it’s forcing me to do now. I’ve specifically stated before that I *do not* want this blog to turn political. Unfortunately, art is increasingly entering that sphere and I find myself in the position where I have no choice but to voice my opinion. So here we go. I very much support the concept of due process and don’t appreciate attempts to subvert it. As sympathetic as you can be to individuals who have to go through this, the rule of “innocent until proven guilty” must prevail, even with regards to rape cases (as in this book), otherwise there will only be a perversion of justice. In this book, however, the fact that the perpetrator is treated as innocent and the crime investigated is shown to be an injustice. The messaging being, perhaps innocent until proven guilty is not such a good idea…

For that reason, this book skirted verrry close to a moral line for me. Ultimately, the police questionings, supposed to be viewed as cruel, switched on the purely logical side of my brain instead. Let me be frank: you need to interrogate both the alleged perpetrator and victim in order to establish whether a crime took place. I don’t see “they’re just doing their job” as callous in this context, as the book seemed to imply, because it is exactly right that the legal system relies on evidence-based conclusions. There is no way to circumvent that without becoming unjust yourself. Lines like “that’s not the sort of thing you lie about” are unhelpful in uncovering the truth and this book did not succeed in changing my mind. No doubt the emotive circumstances of the book will be effective for the “listen and believe” camp. Yet I cannot say I found this book personally convincing. Nor was it educational. With that in mind, I can only think that this book will be useful in bolstering some casual confirmation bias for people in both camps.

Ugh, powder keg of opinions coming my way I presume. Please do try to be civil in the comments.

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All the Things I Liked About Eliza and her Monsters

Yes, that’s right, continuing on from my theme the other day, I’m talking about yet another BRILLIANT book I read last month!

eliza and her monsters

  1. I loved the premise! The story is basically a girl juggling her online life and her life in the real world. I related to this so much on a personal level- obviously not the successful webcomic part, but the online life… well, I think a lot of us bloggers will get that side of things instantly.
  2. I also appreciated the way her webcomic was blended subtly into the narrative. I really enjoy stories that blend real life and fiction in general- and this did that so well!
  3. Because the format was so great! I really appreciate unique story structures more and more, so I ended up thoroughly enjoying the cartoon inserts and the online conversations that broke up the text. I mean, the whole concept was pretty meta, but what elevated the book was how Zappia pulled it off. Cos of all that, I’m also ridiculously pleased that I got given the physical version of this!
  4. Plus, I related so much to the part about creating a story from scratch all the way to completion. I loved the line: “It was the story I wanted to tell”, because that’s what got me onto the path of writing in the first place. On top of that, there’s this wonderful letter at the end (no spoilers) which felt like a letter to all creative people. I genuinely think this book will speak to so many creative types and to fans of the arts- basically this was #relatable to all us nerdy folks.
  5. Speaking of relatable… oh gosh I got the social awkwardness. I really get the desire to “switch off”- because that’s how my brain works too.
  6. I also liked the romance and characterisation. Funnily enough, this was made even more evident by one aspect of the book that I didn’t like- the point when Wallace (the love interest) acted like a selfish dick- but I didn’t deduct bananas because it was realistic (unfortunately). So kudos for creating believable characters.
  7. I was also so invested that this hit me right in the *feels*. I squealed, I cried (twice), and I closed the book with the words “wow that was really good”. I LOVED it.
  8. Since there was a secretive element to the plot, it did make the story cooler and was provided plenty of funny moments too. It got more than a few chuckles out of me.
  9. And just in case this book was awesome enough, it also had the occasional literary nods, especially references to Faustus, which being the booknerd I am, really made me very happy.

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  1. And gosh darn it- I loved how quotable it was:

“You found me in a constellation”

“Truth is the worst monster because it never really goes away.”

“Broken people don’t hide from monsters. Broken people let themselves be eaten.”

That’s why I had to give it all the bananas:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Having Fun with Rulers and Mages!

*I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review!*

rulers and magesI’m excited for today’s review! Rulers and Mages, the second in the Order of the Twelve Tribes series (first book reviewed here), picked up right where the last one left off and built on all its previous success!

From a strong, tense opening, the story entertained me straight away, reintroducing the villain and incorporating wonderfully descriptive world building. The writing was crisp, clear and instantly absorbing. As with the first instalment, I felt the song lyrics fit cleverly with each chapter. And while it was a little slow to start, it certainly picked up the pace and ended, well, magically.

One thing that Daley has definitely got down to a T is the exquisite way she blends the real world and the fey realms. I especially liked all her geeky references, many of which had me grinning. The myths are blended subtly into the plot and certainly give it a distinct flavour. What’s even better is how oblivious most humans are to the goings on of real-life mythological creatures.

What made this great as a sequel was how well the relationships were able to develop across the span of two books. With such a large cast, I did find I focused more on specific characters. I did feel like Emma’s mystery added to her characterisation and shifted my attention to her over others. However, the best development, I felt was for Avery and Madison.

Through these two characters, the author integrated aspects of what it’s like to be on the spectrum in a non-intrusive way and actually gave me a “huh I think I learned something!” moment (which may be a weird way to put it, but trust me, I rarely think that with fiction). You guys know how much I hate it when I think something’s forced- and this wasn’t like that at all. Especially since it became so plot relevant with one of the characters (no spoilers!) And I do think that this is something a lot of us could benefit from learning more about. This also ultimately served to add a layer of maturity to the book and that was much appreciated.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Have you checked out this series? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Review – February

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Yay- it’s February- which means I get to do one of my favourite posts of the month! The Mini Reviews!! (yes, I like this cos I’m lazy about reviewing, don’t judge!) The vast majority of books I read last month were good, so these are mostly positive- enjoy!

homegoing

Homegoing– this was such a beautiful book. It reminded me of a parable, yet was very much grounded in realism. It built up pictures of worlds, people, stories. Telling the story of an African family across continents and over the course of centuries is no small feat. I will say that, due to its scope, there were a lot of people to keep track of and I puzzled over that at first- which in turn distracted me from the story. That said I truly believe this book, with its epic proportions and stunning prose, will go down in history as one of the great American novels. And I don’t say that lightly at all- I was simply awed by it and would hazard a guess that this will be a future classic. There’s so much to analyse here and it was endlessly quotable. So why the short review? Quite simply, once I got into it I was too swept up to write proper notes- sorry!

I can’t for the life of me remember where I saw this first, so I’m sorry to that person because their review was very striking and made me instantly put it on my tbr. Still, there are loads of excellent, full reviews out there for this- I recommend Zezee’s.

/5 bananas

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and then there were none

And Then There Were None– I was absolutely gripped from the opening all the way to the end. Layer upon layer of intrigue and suspicion built up over the course of the novel- with spooky, biblical overtones and clever connections drawn. Oh so much cleverness! Everything from the concept to the who-actually-dunnit to the psychological elements was so well thought out. I did end up questioning the motive- which while it made sense in the context of the book, made me puzzle over the realism when I turned the last page. Overall though I loved it! Very entertaining read.

Side Note: before I read this someone told me not to google the original title, which of course I went and did… bloody hell.

/5 bananas

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foxhole court

Foxhole Court– ahh the inevitable monthly stinker- and I have only myself to blame for this. I saw a negative (but very well done) review for this over on Angelica’s blog– but because I am a curious berk, was struggling with a combination of slumpy blues and boredom, I had to check it out. Lo and behold… it was free on kindle. BEWARE FREE KINDLE BOOKS everybody. As promised, this was *bad*. After the first 10% had nothing but exposition, over description and the cheesiest of one liners, I was ready to call it a day. Then it got weird. Just so, so much weirdness. I don’t even know how to explain- so I’m gonna try listing it:

  • Bizarre fights for no reason- don’t worry though, they’re just for *tension*
  • The most unnecessarily complicated, confusing family dynamics
  • The WORST fake sport ever- it’s football meets hockey meets tennis meets who the fuck cares it’s not like it’s been well thought out. Plus it’s co-ed because who gives a shit about biology when you can make a stand for “equality”- even if it’s a contact sport and without magical powers you’re basically arguing for men to beat the shit out of women… let that sink in.
  • Athletes on hard drugs and getting withdrawal symptoms for not taking said drugs enough
  • Also drugs that make *no sense* (no antipsychotics don’t make you high- are you for real?!)
  • Casual rape threats- that no one bats an eye at
  • Actual sexual assault (again, no one cares)

O-kay so I think that’s got everything covered. Don’t get why this is a thing. I will say that my bemusement drove me through the book in the midst of a terrible reading slump- so it had that going for it I guess- and why (even though I’m having serious doubts about this having written the review) I’m giving it:

2/5 bananas

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crystal storm

Crystal Storm– I had surprisingly mixed feelings about this one- which is not what you want for a 5th book. First of all, it’s beginning to suffer from plausibility problems. Yes, I know it’s fantasy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so unbelievable- sorry but how many times can these characters be captured and recaptured? Also, we’re at book five and not one of the characters has ever come up with a halfway decent plan beyond “we must steal the magical kindred!” Seriously- that’s only ever made things worse- TRY SOMETHING ELSE DAMMIT! I also don’t like highlight for spoilers: that the evil dude is now evil cos he took a magical potion to forget love or whatever- people don’t need magical potions to be bad, just sayin’. And last complaint (I swear!) I hate that everyone that dies ends up alive, cos it really removes a lot of the stakes from the story.

With all that said, I did still end up thoroughly entertained, especially in the last quarter. The climax especially elevated the whole book from blah and made it pretty worthwhile. I’m still loving a lot of the characters and am looking forward to the last book (also a little part of me wants it to be over)

Side Note: Would you believe I’ve reviewed none of these books before? Not even in a mini review. I blame the fact that I started reading them long before I had a blog. Ah well, c’est la vie.

3½/5 bananas

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As always, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And have you ever read a crap book just cos you’re in a slump? Let me know in the comments!

And for anyone that notices, hope you don’t mind that these mini reviews were slightly longer than usual!

Girl in the Tower was *ENCHANTING*

*Received this book off Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the  gushing you’re about to see is all me*

girl in the towerAnd dark, and scary and made me feel all tingly. For anyone that doesn’t remember all the way back to December, I fell absolutely head over heels for Bear and the Nightingale, the first in the Winternight Trilogy. So when I received a last minute ARC for the second one, there was actual screaming, guys. And when I got to the end of this, well, let’s just say this raised my love to practically fever pitch.

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Straightaway I was plunged into Arden’s atmospheric world. With stunning visuals, chuckle-worthy dialogue and mysteries building, I found myself sucked straight back in. Most of my notes devolved to just “WOW” and “AMAZING” pretty quickly. Cos let me tell you, everything about Arden’s writing is wonderful. The haunting style made me shivery and weak at the knees.

From the outset, I felt a creeping sense of dread and that didn’t let up until the crazy-dramatic end. You know that cliché “I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath”- well I exhaled (loudly) when I got to the end and I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath- so there you go, proof it actually happens. I was so absorbed in the good old fashioned storytelling that I didn’t notice. Nor I did I notice the night ticking away until it was Crazy O Clock in the morning and the story was done (whoops).

Timeless and magical, the plot loops round, playing with strands of the story and then joining the threads. When I could finally see the full tapestry, my face cracked into a smile of pure joy– it’s been a while since I’ve seen chronology twisted so successfully. This seemingly slight touch allowed minor characters to step more into the spotlight, which was excellently done. Carefully, characterisation through the eyes of others and through the smallest of gestures, brought the world more vividly to life. Little things, like the humorous horse character, made my toes curl in pleasure.

And speaking of pleasure, the romance in this book melted my heart. There were only hints of romance in the previous book and, even though I discussed it offline, I’d been scared of scaring it away- but man I wanted this. I don’t know where it’s going, since there’s a terrifying combination of miscommunication and magic involved, but I’m loving the slow build so far. Arden sure knows how to take her time.

I also loved the direction Vasya took in this book. She’s certainly grown into an increasingly wonderful heroine. As with the last book, I loved her unconventionality, her cleverness and how unusual she was (including her looks). She’s such a great role model for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. And what made her even more powerful was the presence of a truly killer villain. He both mirrored her and reflected back her goodness with darkness… and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. But he’s a good un (well, technically bad 😉 )

What was incredible was how much more complexity and scope there was to Girl in the Tower. There were multiple layers to the story and I felt like there was so much more under the surface, waiting to be discovered. I honestly don’t feel like one review could do it justice (I can already see that I would benefit from rereading this story). One thing I will say that I enjoyed the most about this book was the elements of appearance vs reality. The hidden world of folklore, tucked out of sight for most people, gave the impression that there was more to this reality than meets the eye. I really appreciated how that theme bled into the narrative, the character’s gestures even and the portrayal of different beliefs. I marvelled how the unseen and the seen blurred together at moments, in a way that screamed UNCANNY and UNSETTLING. I revelled in what could be regarded as a clash of civilisations.

Ultimately, this book took everything about the first book and made it better. No middle book syndrome here- only pure, unadulterated bliss. I’d read a few reviews and thought “pff could it be better?”- the answer is yes, yes it could and it was. And I must say it was perfect with hot chocolate and Bailey’s after an exhausting day 😉

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Have you read this or the first one? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Resurrecting Daughter of Smoke and Bone

So as you may gather from my title, this was a reread for me last year. And OH WHAT A REREAD IT WAS. Not only was this a stunning book, but I also buddy read this with the lovely Being a Book Nerd. She’s such a sweet person and I had so much fun discussing this as I went along- be sure to check out her blog!

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

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Anyway, I figured a chill review was in order. From that perfect opening line I was completely in love again. In fact, I highlighted the whole first page on my kindle, cos it was just so unbelievably gorgeous!!  Heck I highlighted whole chapters, even, it was just so quotable. It’s lyrical, surprisingly witty and sucks you right in.  Laini Taylor is a MASTER at her craft. There’s no doubt about it. I couldn’t actually believe how stunningly well written this is (even though I already knew that 😉 ).

“Sketchbook,” Zuzana commanded, holding out her hand like a surgeon for a scalpel.

I had forgotten so much, but the second I started reading I was practically punching the air with a “THIS IS WHY I LOVE IT!” More than anything, this was exemplified by the brilliant characterisation. I was cheering every time a hero character turned up and booing all the baddies- it turned into quite the panto in my bedroom 😉 What’s wonderful about the characterisation here is how simply Taylor builds an entire image in a single sentence. Right from the start, we learn that Karou, for instance, is not easily scared and can handle herself. Even more than that, there’s so much loaded into single sentences, that it creates a picture within seconds:

“Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch, and Karou envied her for it.”

In the above quote, you get two-for-one characterisation- it is a stroke of brilliance! Forgive my geeking out, but one thing I love about rereads is how much more you can appreciate the details and artistry the second time round. And my goodness there is so much to dissect here. Because there are so many subtle things, subtly woven into the fabric, you could not notice the first time round. Of course, they give an impression, but if you want to get the most out of this book, it’s worth another look.

“Oh, good, Pestilence is free,” said Karou, heading towards the sculpture. Massive emperor and horse both wore gas masks, like every other statue in the place, and it had always put Karou in mind of the first horseman of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, sowing plaque with one outstretched arm.”

A few things stood out to me that I hadn’t noticed before. Like the understated hints of magic, the biblical references and the absolute attention to detail. One line in particular of Karou appraising the decor had me chuckling in context: “An angel, of all abominations!”(which I realise now is only funny to people who’ve read it). More than that, I adored how the real world history of the setting blended into the world of Taylor’s creation. Having been to Prague now, I could appreciate the way Taylor captured the atmosphere even more (actually this book is the reason my friend and I went to Prague in the first place 😉 )

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“Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. The river captures all the lights and teases them out, long and wavering, and the side-slashing rain blurs it all to a dream”

Now, here’s one of the *biggest* differences. The first time round I thought it was instalove, until right at the end of the book. Highlight for spoilers: obviously, knowing about Karou’s former life this time round, seeing breadcrumbs for that scattered throughout the text, I could only think of it as ingenious this time round. In short, for those that haven’t read the book and are scared off the second they see the word “instalove”, it really, really isn’t. The romance is actually one of the biggest selling points of the series.

“We dreamed together of the world remade.” 

In terms of plot, there’s a lot going on, whilst also being a slow burn. I do think it picks up the pace later on, but the best thing about this book is actually the flashback sequence at the end- without spoilers, that twist *was not* something I saw coming the first time round. Like I said however, for the rereader, there are enough clues to see how perfectly the story has been laid out. I did think it ended rather abruptly- which explains why I sped through the series the first time cos leaving it there and *not knowing* is painful- so the one downside is not having time to complete the whole series again.

“Once upon a time, there was only darkness, and there were monsters vast as worlds who swam in it.”

All in all, there’s a reason why this is one of the rare series I’ve given a perfect rating:

5/5 bananas

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Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

The Gulag Archipelago: The Book That Shook the Soviet Union and Why You Need to Read It

“Hate begets hate! The black water of hate flows easily and quickly along the horizontal. That was easier than for it to erupt upward through a crater against those who conundrum both the old and the young to a slave’s fate.”

Gulag Archipelago, 3 volumes

It’s hard to talk about such a monumental book. Scratch that: it’s nigh on impossible. A thorough, detailed work drawing on Solzhenitsyn’s own experience and the accounts of 200+ fellow prisoners and Soviet archives, this book revealed the true nature of the Stalin’s tyrannical regime and decimated the claim of communism’s moral superiority.

“like eyes seeing through badly prescribed eyeglasses could in no wise read with exactitude the phrases of the cruel teaching. Not long before, apparently, proclaimed terror- yet it was still impossible to believe!”

Credited with exposing the Stalinist regime, this book stands as an historical landmark. Yet it has also had remarkable implications for political philosophy and literature.

“It was a second Civil War- this time against the peasants. It was indeed the Great Turning Point, or as the phrase had it, the Great Break. Only we are never told what broke.

It was the backbone of Russia.”

One notable aspect I found in the opening chapter, “Arrest”, was the Kafkaesque feel and how remarkably reminiscent it was of The Trial. However, as I continued reading, I soon realised how it proved the prophetic nature of more than one book. Time and time again, as I’ve mentioned on this blog, I found myself reminded of 1984– a book written long before Gulag’s publication in 1973. From descriptions of censorship to the police state (with its informers, spies, and interrogators), the correlation was simply uncanny.

 “Nothing more horrible!” exclaimed Tolstoi. It is, however, very easy to imagine things more horrible. It is more horrible when executions take place not from time to time, and in one particular city of which everybody knows, but everywhere and every day and not twenty but two hundred at a time, with the newspapers saying nothing about it in print big or small, but saying instead that “life has become more cheerful””

More even than this, the book was a cry for freedom from beneath the oppressive heel of the Soviet government. As discussed in the chapter “Our Muzzled Freedom”, the constant fear, servitude, corruption, secrecy and mistrust all played their part in keeping people in line.

“And what the devil is the point of talking about the any kind of struggle? Struggle against whom? Against our own people? Struggle- for what? For personal release? For that you don’t need to struggle, you have to ask according to rules. A struggle for the overthrow of the Soviet Union government? Shut your mouth.”

Yet the truths of the Gulag do not end there. It is, frankly, impossible to read this and not draw parallels with the Communist Manifesto, with other communist regimes or with present day societies like North Korea. Gulag is the actualisation of a far left ideology which breeds on the fury of resentment, facilitates theft, and is fundamentally anti-freedom after all. Crucially, this is the book that dispels the myth that “communism has never really been tried”- here is  documented the outcome of that failed experiment.

 “Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology”

“Ideology that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.”

And that really was my primary interest in reading it. Not to include a diatribe about my own political journey, but I felt like my education on this subject was severely lacking. There’s this generic phrase toted about when it comes to communism: “it’s a nice idea, but it really doesn’t really work.” No. It’s not a “nice idea”. Not even kind of close.

“To do evil human being must first believe what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

As this book exemplifies, there’s nothing nice about the deliberate breakdown of the family, with children forced into an endless cycle of camps and accusations (ie relating to the aim in the Communist Manifesto titled  “Abolition of the family”). There’s nothing nice about the “abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom”-  which is a fancy way to say the enslavement of large swathes of the population based on group identity (an identity defined as and when needed). There’s nothing nice about all the power “in the hands of the State” and the consequential torture, secret police, or kangaroo courts that inevitably entails.

“Some children cannot adjust to artificial feeding without their mothers and die. The survivors are sent after a year to a general orphanage. And thus it is that the son of two natives may depart from the Archipelago for the time being though not without hope of returning as a juvenile offender”

Now I will be honest: it’s not an easy book to read. The Peasant Plague chapter, for instance, begins: “This chapter will deal with a small matter. Fifteen million lives”. Gulag is more harrowing than a cry from the depths of an authoritarian regime- it is the echoing silence of people who never had the opportunity to speak.  It’s something you’ll be in for the long haul, it’s graphically harrowing and it’s a hard slog- but it is essential reading if you care about concepts of freedom, democracy, and humanity itself.

“they quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis the practice which had proved valuable to them- the substitution of a number for the prisoner’s name, his “I”, his human individuality, so that the difference between one and another was a digit more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures.”

Above all, though, you should read it because you can. Returning to the beginning of my journey, one of the first things I wrote in my notes was the story of how this was smuggled into the West, how the author was censored in Russia, and how the preface addresses the fact that names are often left out to protect identities. I am reminded how Solzhenitsyn writes “the very reading and handing on of this book will be very dangerous, so that I am bound to salute future readers”- which is why I now say over to you.

“Is it not more dreadful that we were being told thirty years later “Don’t talk about it!” If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we doggedly seek out the essence of our morality, we are told it will darken our material progress.”

Naturally, I’m not including a rating or anything like that here, but do let me know if you plan to read it.