Thank you Steve, for organizing this incredible blog, and for choosing to begin with Gulag Boss. It’s an honor to have so many scholars I admire read this book and comment on it. You are right: this is so much better than waiting for the random review to come out 15 months from now. And thank you all for taking the time to do this. I’m sorry to be so late in responding. I guess I temporarily forgot that handing out a take-home midterm exam yesterday to my Freshman Seminar students might cause them to become crazed and needy! What can I say? It’s what we do.
One thing that made me happy about many of your comments was seeing that Mochulsky inadvertently answered some questions that have puzzled us. For instance, it thrilled me to see that Alan could finally find a reason for this rail line to be built, of all the myriad of projects in Komi that were started and abandoned. Jeff mentioned that seeing the political prisoners behave badly was unusual (I was also surprised), as well as seeing that the Germans actually landed near the camp during the war (this really surprised me, too). I, too, felt that the Selektor was an important part of camp boss life, and yet I’d not seen much about it in the literature. The Selektor is an excellent symbol of Lynne’s point about the sheer isolation and desolation of the camps, so far from Moscow.
Like Golfo, I was on the edge of my seat as well when Mochulsky’s horse got stuck in the mud, and shocked at the callousness of the other “free” employees in leaving the 3 boys there to fend for themselves. Already, before they even arrived at the camp, they had to worry about being arrested for the “plundering of State property.” It was, as nearly everyone mentioned, a stark reminder to us of that very fuzzy line between perpetrator and prisoner, as well as the blurred boundaries between the archipelago and the mainland, the famous “little camp” and “big camp.” Mochulsky’s memoir, for me, has made it much harder to simply dismiss the Gulag administrators as perpetrators. He has put a very real face on the challenges and choices they faced every day on the job.