Gulag Boss: review

This was a really interesting read about the life of a foreman and boss at the Pechorlag GULAG NKVD from 1940-1946. Later, the author of the memoir, Fyodor Mochulsky, went on to become a diplomat (not bad, eh?).

I've read a lot of the standard (if you could call it that) Gulag reading stuff and the guards and bosses are never painted in any other light other than vicious (a pretty universal dynamic between prisoners and guards, check this out).

Unsuspectingly, the author doesn't paint himself in a negative light. Most of the book is actually about the challenges he faced getting his job done in demanding conditions, logistics, supplies, prisoner management and so on. 

Although his rank wasn't that high, since the camp he was at were important for the war effort  his ass was on the line. After all, if a Gulag boss fucked up, he would most likely end up a prisoner in the Gulag - how's that for ironic job pressure?

While the author doesn't get into the gritty realities of camp too much, the book was still really, really interesting. It was a definite page turner for me and gave a unique look into the mad bureaucracy of the time and how officials and prisoners alike would have to manipulate a rigid system to get anything done.

By the looks of it, everyone, guards, prisoners and others alike were all making use of 'tufta' - something like manipulating the stats to get the plan filled (you can read more on the meaning and entomology of this word here). 

At the end of the book, the author asks some fundamental questions about the nature of the Gulags and the loss of life, although he doesn't come off as particularly repentant for the role he played, probably because he didn't have much of a choice, presuming of course he wasn't a brutal guard. Of course, we don't have any way of knowing about that though.

A very interesting read this one and a must for anyone interested in a slightly different angle on Gulag history. Highly recommended.


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