This week’s musing, from Should Be Reading, asks…
What is the last book you struggled to read through to the end, even though you weren’t really enjoying it? What made you keep reading?
Yikes, I read a lot of books, and most I struggle through at some points, but the end is usually easy! The last book I clearly struggled to read to the end of, however, was:
The unknown gulag: the lost world of Stalin’s special settlements
By Lynne Viola
Actually, Unknown Gulag is quite readable for a work of non-fiction. One aspect I especially liked was that the author really normalized her use of mostly female interviewees. Reading history, authors tend to use mostly male insights, and, when any significant amount (or, hey, ANY amount) of insights from contemporary women, they (or the publisher?) underline it, bold it, and circle it ten times over. Here, Viola took the experiences–mostly of women–in Stalin’s “special settlements,” and treated them as the norm. Now, to be fair, I’m not sure that this was actually the most accurate way to go about writing the history of the special settlements. Interviews from the women often relayed accounts of men who were far more mobile, geographically, then they were as women. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too far off to suspect that men experienced a very different “unknown gulag” than did women, and, for one, would be interested in the unique perspective that men and women could provide on their own, perhaps gendered experiences, of this time. Still, it was so refreshing, just to have women. written. as. the. norm.
Now, for the reason I struggled through it? The horror. Yes, I do history (in fact, by writing this, I’m procrastinating on my research project!), and yes, I study some not-so-groovy times in history. And yes, I read a lot of books on it. However, story after story of sadness, betrayal, starvation, and general malaise from a corner of history I had not previously known much about, made this a struggle to finish.