Man’s inhumanity to man

Having studied Gulag literature for my master’s degree, I can’t help adding a reading list of books about extreme experiences.

The Gulag:

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

The Holocaust:

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.

Back to Reading Lists


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Katia says:

    I know it’s not a novel but I think Todorov’s Facing The Extreme would unite the two lists very nicely, as he quotes both Russian and German sources, it’s quite a good read I think…


  2. rickkurshen says:

    I’m surprised you’ve omitted Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, the most moving book that I’ve read on the Holocaust as well as one that gives insight into why some survived rather than others.


    1. trewisms says:

      I haven’t read that – I’ll have to put it on my list!


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