The first volume of THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO appeared in English in the spring of 1974. Published in the original Russian just a few months earlier, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book caused such a stir that the American translator, Thomas P. Whitney, a former Moscow bureau chief with the Associated Press, had to work very fast to produce the English version.
THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO is a three-volume, non-fiction, literary-historical record of the Soviet system of prisons and labour camps. While serving as an officer in the Red Army in 1944 Solzhenitsyn made derogatory remarks in letters from the front about Stalin’s handling of the war. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years’ hard labour. THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, written between 1958 and 1967, is based on his own experience and the first-hand testimonies of more than 200 fellow prisoners.
Solzhenitsyn hid different parts of the manuscript with friends around Moscow and never worked on all of it at once. It was smuggled out of the country on microfilm, but he still hoped to be able to publish it in Russia first. However, in August 1973 the KGB seized a copy after interrogating one of the typists, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, who was found hanged just days after her release. When he heard of her death, Solzhenitsyn gave Paris-based Editions du Seuil the go-ahead to publish the text in Russian. Six weeks after the first volume appeared he was charged with treason, deported from the Soviet Union and stripped of his Soviet citizenship.
The sheer quantity of detailed research and testimonies made it impossible for the Soviet authorities to discredit the book. It forced people in both the Soviet Union and the West to confront the reality of the Leninist-Stalinist prison camp system. In 2009 the book became mandatory reading in Russian schools. A 50th anniversary edition will be published as a single volume by Penguin Vintage Classics in November 2018, in the translation by Thomas P. Whitney and Harry Willets. THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO has sold over thirty million copies in 35 languages, and has been hailed by historians as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.
Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970, but feared he would not be allowed back to Russia if he travelled to Stockholm to receive it. He finally accepted the award at a ceremony in 1974, the year he was exiled.