This is the second autobographical book that Janusz Bardach wrote, but, by his own admission, it was motivated by a very different impulse. In describing his experience of the GULag, although facing his own actions and reactions with typical unflinching honesty, his purpose was to record and bear witness to what he had seen and experienced. Although a very personal acount, the focus was not on himself, but on the horrors he had seen and endured.
In this second book, which he unfortunately did not live to see published, Bardach focuses on himself. A internationally renowned plastic surgeon, he certainly does not need to bolster his own ego, and this account is certainly not intended to flatter himself. Instead, he gives an uncompromising picture of himself 'warts and all'. The fact that one finishes reading his account filled with admiration for a remarkable man is simply a consequence of reading of all he achieved.
Bardach states quite clearly his purpose: having survived when people around him, who he considered better equipped than himself to do so, did not, he asked - why? What qualities did he possess that enabled him to survive? How did his experiences change him? His morality changed as he adapted to survive - did this make him a worse person?
His brother Julek, who had used his influence to obtain Janusz' early release (he still had six years of his sentence to serve), then arrange for him to be lodged in the guest suite of the Polish embassy. Subsequently, he is invited to stay with Julek and his new family (both brothers' wives were killed by the Germans during the War); he asks Julek why he could not have stayed with his family from the start? The response was simple: "I did not know what kind of man you had become." In this book, Janusz Bardach tries, unflinchingly, to find the answer to that question.
In this self-examination, "Surviving Freedom" serves as both prequel and sequel to "Man Is Wolf To Man: Surviving Stalin's Gulag". He writes much more about his early years and teenage behaviour - for instance, it may surprise readers of "Man Is Wolf To Man" to learn that he had been active in a pre-war Jewish anti-fascist organisation - and then describes honestly his mental state in the years following his release, as he recounts his subsequent career.
It is tempting to see his release at the end of "Man Is Wolf To Man" as a 'happy ending' - he is alive, he is free, and the endnotes show that he had a very successful subsequent career. This book eliminates such illusions: it decribes the slow, painful way he builds himself a new life. Despite supportive relatives (and hints of influential friends), we meet an intelligent man with limited education, no profession and a criminal record(for "sabotage" - he accidentally overturned the tank he was driving, and was denounced by a comrade), who relaxes by diving into Moscow's underworld, because the criminals he meets are a danger he is familar with and knows how to handle, whilst the risks of an unguarded comment make polite social interaction a stressful event, fraught with danger! How he transforms himself into a 'normal' medical student (when he is lying about his past on every official form) is even more remarkable than his later exceptional academic career.
In some ways this is a depressing book, as he describes how the horrors he has experienced have traumatised him, and others around him. Yet ultimately it is uplifting, in that he does rebuild his life, and come to terms with his past.
Janusz Bardach says that he wrote this book because although he had read a lot of the 'survivor literature' he found most accounts stopped at liberation, without attempting to cover the difficulties such survivors experienced in adapting to 'normal life'. As a doctor, with psychiatric training, he knew that most did experience problems. So, with himself as subject, he decided to write about them.
His reason for writing this book is probably the best reason as to why you should read it. But do not make the mistake of thinking it will be a dry read: Janusz Bardach is a warm, witty, and remarkable man and well worth listening to.
(However, in this book, he covers his experiences in the Red Army and in the camps in a few pages - to understand his reactions properly, you really do need to read "Man Is Wolf To Man" first.)