Having studied Gulag literature for my master’s degree, I can’t help adding a reading list of books about extreme experiences.
1) The Gulag Archipelago/ One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. One factual, one fiction: one enormous, one slim. Both brilliant
2) Kolyma Tales, Varlam Shalamov
3) A World Apart, Gustav Herling. A personal choice as it was at the centre of my dissertation
4) If This is a Man/ The Truce, Primo Levi
5) Roman’s Journey, Roman Halter. Another personal choice as I knew the author
6) Fragments, Binjamin Wilkomirski. A controversial choice. This came out as a memoir a few years ago to great acclaim, only to have accusations of falsehood levelled at it ever since. Reading a fake Holocaust memoir is an interesting exercise, and there are also several books on the Wilkomirski Controversy which are equally fascinating.
Empire of the Sun, JG Ballard. The writer’s semi-fictionalised account of life in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War.
Facing the Extreme, Tsvetan Todorov. As Katia says, this is a very readable study of this kind of literature.