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Publisher's Summary

The searing accounts of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Evgeniia Ginsberg, and Varlam Shalamov opened the world's eyes to the terrors of the Soviet Gulag. But not until now has there been a memoir of life inside the camps written from the perspective of an actual employee of the Secret police. In this riveting memoir, superbly translated by Deborah Kaple, Fyodor Mochulsky describes being sent to work as a boss at the forced labor camp of Pechorlag in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle.

Only 22 years old, he had but a vague idea of the true nature of the Gulag. What he discovered was a world of unimaginable suffering and death, a world where men were starved, beaten, worked to death, or simply executed. Mochulsky details the horrific conditions in the camps and the challenges facing all those involved, from prisoners to guards. He depicts the power struggles within the camps between the secret police and the communist party, between the political prisoners (most of whom had been arrested for the generic crime of "counter-revolutionary activities") and the criminal convicts. And because Mochulsky writes of what he witnessed with the detachment of the engineer that he was, readers can easily understand how a system that destroyed millions of lives could be run by ordinary Soviet citizens who believed they were advancing the cause of socialism.

Mochulsky remained a communist party member his entire life - he would later become a diplomat - but was deeply troubled by the gap between socialist theory and the Soviet reality of slave labor and mass murder. This unprecedented memoir takes readers into that reality and sheds new light on one of the most harrowing tragedies of the 20th century.

©2011 Oxford University Press (P)2010 Audible, Inc

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • paolo
  • villanova di castenaso, Italy
  • 02-17-11

A very interesting "other point of view"

We have read a lot about Gulag, Kolyma, and so on. But never i had a chance to "see" the facts from the point of view of somebody who was standing on the "other side" of the fence. It has been a very interesting experience for me.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Richard
  • Gingins, Switzerland
  • 02-16-11

interesting and well read.

This is an interesting and well written book. It shows a part of history we have read from solzhenitsyn's point of view. This goes deeper into showing the lives of those in charge of reaching goals, getting teams to work and more.

Well narrated and a pleasant audio book with a few interesting passages.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Useful document, feels longer than it has to be

Having read about the gulag system from different authors before, I was interested to see what a Soviet employee working in the gulag would say about the camps, how he treated prisoners or saw prisoners being treated, etc.

This memoir is something different, since it is written by a construction engineer. The memoir is told in a variety of episodic chapters, not necessarily in chronological order. Each episode reads something like this:

Gulag employee (author) is given a unique problem to solve with an inefficient system and/or badly treated prisoners. Employee can solve problem when no one else can (even at age 22), often by streamlining process, bending the rules to get prisoners fed, or negotiating with others to find a work solution. This formula is repeated again and again throughout the book. He is put in a work situation in some camp he does not know. He comes in and sizes up the situation, and somehow is able to pull people together to solve the problem.

I was slightly skeptical that Mochulsky (author) would be *this* good at negotiating with prisoners, criminal prisoners, foremen, and the NKVD, even in his 20's, upon entering a new camp. I'm sure he had a talent for leadership, but this seems like he is the miracle fix-it man.

I was glad he was able to use his talents to get prisoners better rations, better housing, etc., at least in the cases he described. However, his focus is as a career Soviet government employee, and his goal throughout it all is that *he* can be free (!) of the Gulag system (since he cannot quit working there without Party permission).

I was also annoyed that the apparently chaste, dedicated Party employee in his 20s was so taken in by the story of a former Mosfilm producer (?) and ex-Gulag-prisoner sexual predator that he suddenly felt the need to include his stories of exploitation at the end of the book. These stories had nothing to do with Mochulsky himself (except that, perhaps, Mochulsky's Gulag work prevented him from developing normal sexual/romantic relationships himself, so he was dazzled by stories from an older, more experienced man who was all too eager to have a listening ear). However, his stories of the Mosfilm character seem more like name-dropping or sensationalism than a part of the rest of his Gulag story.

Mochulsky also mentions that he was disgusted by the treatment of women in the USSR, which was supposed to promote equality. He also is disgusted by the treatment of prisoners, but this only comes out at the end, in a series of "Questions" for the Soviet system. Only at the end of the book does he show anger at the system that betrayed his youthful idealism (after showing throughout the book that he was a devoted and favored Soviet employee throughout his life).

For readers/listeners looking for a dramatic confession of what a "Gulag boss" did or saw done to prisoners, this is not it. The book has some self-congratulation and, at the end, betrayed anger at a system that proclaimed ideals of humanity, yet fed humans into the gears of a massive industrialization machine.

Mochulsky is a "true believer" Communist who is disillusioned by the system he worked for all his life, but most of the book is simply a description of his many Gulag construction projects. Perhaps he is pleading that he is one of the "good ones," that he did nothing wrong personally. Perhaps he is right. It just isn't the most interesting reading after a few chapters or so.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Disappointment

Would you try another book from Feodor Vasilievich Mochulsky and Deborah Kaple (translator) and/or Chris Patton?

No

Has Gulag Boss turned you off from other books in this genre?

No

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

I was quite naive to expect real stories from the Gulag Boss perspective.
In this book is very little about life in the “Zone”. Only the afterword, explain the way of thinking of author. You will never find the truth, from the person responsible for terror. He was one of the cog in the machine of terror. However, without those cogs, machine wouldn’t be able to run.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful