I was a bit surprised that I ended up liking this book so much. I have owned it for probably close to ten years without reading it, and I have only recently read "Cancer Ward" by the same author without having been terribly impressed. But there is something about the way he writes in this book that not only makes it interesting, but also quite entertaining. I admire him for being able to take such a wealth of information, from such a variety of sources, and condensing it down to something which has some semblance of continuation and coherence. If it is not known to the prospective buyer, this is a non-fiction book, and it is basically about the history of the prison system in the former Soviet Union, and more specifically about the exaggerated cruelty and impossible conditions of the same system under Stalinist rule. It describes how and why people were arrested, the interrogations used for information and sentencing, the day to day life and conditions of various prisons, etc. Another thing I like about the way it was written is that the author very rarely becomes emotional, and how it is clear that he still loves his country (and possibly even communism) despite its many faults. He allows himself to look at various situations from the side of the "powers that be", and his objectivity is a welcome alternative to a constantly whining tone, which he could have very easily adopted, what with his personal experience.
Just one note on the translation: As far as I can tell, it was done well - there were very few parts where something was unclear, and even then it was only a word or two - all in all it flowed very well.
The main thoughts I had while reading this book were: Has there ever been a (white) country as screwed up as Russia? and: How have Russians survived through such merciless times? I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Soviet history, and especially to anyone who claims that Nazi Germany was the cruelest and most senseless government/nation to date.