Yale, £17.99, 195pp. £16.19 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030; IB Tauris, £17.99, 216pp. £16.19 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Gulag Voices Edited, By Anne Applebaum
The Victims Return, By Stephen F Cohen

That these two books appear at almost the same time is doubtless coincidence. The volume edited by Anne Applebaum, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Soviet prison-camp system, Gulag, is the latest in Yale's Annals of Communism series. It aims to chart different aspects of Soviet and international communism through judiciously selected primary sources. Stephen Cohen's book is the product of a 40-year old project, originating in his doctoral thesis, that he picked up again when Soviet-era archives started to be opened.

But, in one respect, the timing is not fortuitous. Applebaum and Cohen share a determination to relate the Gulag experience through those who endured it - and their families - while there is still time. With the first great wave of releases, ordered by Nikita Khrushchev at the start of his "Thaw" in the 1950s, and the mass rehabilitations ordered by Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, the number of those with their own memories are fast dwindling. Only a small minority recorded their suffering for posterity, and by no means everyone in subsequent generations cared to dwell on the past.

The other - equally laudable - objective they share is to reach the widest possible audience. Both have eschewed the natural academic instinct to cram as much information as possible into a fat volume and have opted for distillation instead. Their books are both slender by current standards but selectivity becomes a virtue. Each paragraph, and in Cohen's case each picture too, has had to earn its place.

Beyond that, the two books could not be more different. Applebaum's preface to each of her selected excerpts is spare, strictly factual and almost clinical. The former inmates (zeks) are left to speak for themselves. Cohen brings all his personal passion, loyalty and exuberance to his subject. There is a distinct bias towards the first generation of purged communists, reflecting the thesis he wrote on Nikolai Bukharin. His acquaintance with Bukharin's widow, Anna Larina - made, as happened so often in Soviet times, through a bizarre combination of luck and courage on both sides - gave him a unique window onto a whole world of Gulag survivors. To that extent, his book has elements of memoir. But it is a generous memoir that gives pride of place to others.

Cohen, you feel, has come a long way from his American student self to a state of more reflective understanding. He knows how to relate what he saw and heard then to what he is seeing and hearing now. Like many, though not all, of his Gulag survivors, he studiedly refrains from judgement - not about the system, which he palpably abhors, but about the conduct of individuals in extreme circumstances.

Concentrating on the lives of those who returned, he reserves accepting bemusement for those who simply slotted back into Soviet society, while expressing awed admiration for those who resolved to keep the flame of memory alive. He ranges widely, from the cost in family breakdown and destroyed social cohesion to the political effects of the mass returns and the way Stalin and the camps became totems for political struggles - struggles which, as he notes, are not yet completely resolved even now.

Though in a different mode, Cohen's chronicle of survival essentially picks up where Applebaum leaves off. In a decision that does not quite convince me, Applebaum has arranged her "Gulag voices" not chronologically but according to theme, from arrest to release, through the various set-pieces of camp life - jailers, informers, religion, the punishment cell - so familiar from the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Yevgenia Ginzburg and others. The chronology is that of the camp rather than history.

Applebaum notes that she has omitted these luminaries of camp literature because their work is already widely available and well-known in English translation. Yet, for all the searing personal accounts, including Hava Volovich's vain quest to keep her baby daughter alive, it is hard not to feel the absence of these giants from such a volume, even if the idea was to present more "ordinary" lives. Hard, too, to accept that the Annals of Communism series - intended for students and scholars as much as the general reader - is well served by such glaring omissions. The result is a book that cries out for a list of essential further reading.

Inevitably, these are sombre books, with occasional bright points - small victories won by prisoners against the odds, feats of personal forbearance; costly acts of honour. But there is another bright point, too. Both are also being published in Russian: not smuggled to and fro like the early Gulag literature, but to appear legally in Russian libraries and bookshops. They will inform a generation fortunate enough to be living in different times.

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
exhibition Gillian Orr traces the movement from Bram Stoker to Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone