Sunday, February 20, 2005

Reading: Janusz Bardach

I've just finished reading Janusz Bardach's memoir of the Gulag, Man is Wolf to Man. As a youth in Poland, Bardach admired the Soviet Union, believing that the Communists were building a perfect and just society. He welcomed the Soviet occupation of his hometown following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. As a Jew, he thought the Soviets were rescuing his family not only from Hitler, but from Poland's native anti-Semites.

It didn't take long for reality to set in. Bardach found himself coerced into serving as a 'civilian witness' while the NKVD brutalised and deported his neighbours. When Hitler broke the pact, Bardach was drafted into the Soviet military. After an accident with a tank, he was denounced by his fellow soldiers and sentenced to ten years' hard labour.

Bardach describes his time in the Gulag with photographic clarity. He spares no detail but is never melodramatic. This is one of the most absorbing books I have read about Soviet history.

My one complaint is that the book doesn't seem to have been proofread, or at least not very well. In particular, the word 'lay' has been misused for 'lie' every time. This is one of several recent nonfiction books I've read where grammatical and typographical errors have gone uncorrected (Simon Sebag-Montefiore's
biography of Stalin remains the champion.)

Bardach also wrote a sequel, Surviving Freedom, which I hope to read soon.

(Note: While looking the book up on Amazon, I found
this entry to their 'Listmania' feature. The creator's story is online, but sadly only in Lithuanian.)

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