Siberia and the Exile System

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The American journalist George Kennan (1854-1924) spent many years travelling in and writing about Russia. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, Kennan wanted to go to Siberia to examine the penal system and the punishment of political exiles. In this unflinching account, published in two volumes in 1891, Kennan gives vivid descriptions, accompanied by extensive illustrations of the prisons and labour camps and the harsh lives of the people forced to live there. This journey also led to a personal transformation for Kennan himself - he started out as a supporter of the tsarist government but when he returned to the United States, he had become an advocate of political revolution in Russia. In Volume 1, he inspects the overcrowded holding prison of Tyumen, where everyone banished to Siberia was forced to stay before redeployment, and he later speaks to some political exiles.