Surviving an American Gulag

Novel by Edward C. Patterson
ISBN: 1-4384723-0

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Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by Flippy Flop (New Jersey -

Glad I'm the First

I have been reading Edward C Patterson's entries on the various Kindle forum threads and decided to try one of his books. I read Surviving an American Gulag in just 2 days. It is very well written, with descriptions that make you feel you are right there in Georgia. As the story unfolds, Private Gibbs grows, and shrinks, before your eyes. You feel for his fears, both the fears of the known and the fears that are buried deep in his heart, and you cheer for him as he conquers those fears.

I really did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did as I am neither male or gay. But the story is about so much more then being a gay male in the army in the 1960's. It is a universal journey of being forced to face your fears, no matter what they are or how they paralyze you and working through them to become the best person you can be.

Flippy Flop

Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by Esmeralda Luv (Seattle, WA)-

Spending Time in an 'American Gulag'

What I expected from this book was a behind-the-scenes look at life in military basic training. What I got was an education of human nature in its purist form. Through Private Gibbs, I met each character, I learned to accept and be accepted by all of them, I made mistakes and I corrected them, and I learned to love myself and then broadened that love to include others. Failures and successes were ever present and I learned to pick myself up when necessary and when to raise my hands and cheer. I ask myself, "Did I feel what the author wanted me to feel?" The answer is yes, his writing is that good.

Patterson's novelized memoir read just as that, a memoir. When I opened the first page, I felt as though I was sitting next to him, and when I closed the book, I shook his hand and thanked him for sharing the memories. It was easy to read, the story flowed, the characters were easy to keep track of, and the author never strayed from the path. All in all, I enjoyed my time spent in the 'American Gulag'.

Esmeralda Luv

Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by Michael Hicks (Annapolis, MD-

A Unique Perspective on Military Life

Having served in the Army myself, I thought that this book provided a rather fascinating perspective of what for many is a very pivotal point in their lives: military basic training.

The story is told from the point of view of Private Winslow Gibbs, who seems totally unsuited to the military, particularly in the Vietnam-era draft: he is terribly overweight, emotionally soft and - although unbeknownst to himself at the time - homosexual, at a time when being "queer" in the military could land you in prison.

Patterson's telling of the story conveys the primitive conditions and harsh life experienced in basic training, from the total lack of privacy in the barracks to the grueling physical fitness training and the terror of night-time battle drills. Anyone who has ever had to spend time in one of the Army's many "splinter villages" will know from Patterson's words that he's been there himself. And those who haven't experienced the trials and tribulations of military training can gain a better understanding - and respect - for what our young service members experience before they even place themselves in harm's way; and while those of Patterson's generation had no choice during the draft, young men and women today volunteer for such hardships to serve their country, which is something so many of their countrymen do not truly appreciate.

Like those men and women, Patterson's hero - Private Gibbs - learns that he is more than he ever thought he could be. The training he endures, while harsh, reveals his inner strength, which is tempered and honed by his drill sergeant and the members of his platoon.

As for the gay aspect of the story, to me it was almost incidental. Patterson is clearly trying to portray the extreme hardships borne by gay men in the military at the time, and this book certainly does that well in a very non-graphic way.

But the bottom line, in my opinion, is the same as for any other tale of men (and, today, women) who prepare for the ultimate test of war: it's a story of comradeship, a tale of survival against what so often seems to be overwhelming odds.

Michael Hicks

Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by Mireille Reyns (Belgium)

A Superb story

Yet again Mr. Patterson has proven with this novel what a superb story teller he is. He has this amazing ability to catch the reader's attention right from the beginning. I'm not male or gay and I haven't experienced the trials of military training but yet I could fully sympathize with private Gibbs who is forced to conquer both the fears of the horrific physical training and his fears of being gay.

I can strongly recommend this novel to everyone!

Review by Mireille Reyns

Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by Sondi Miller (North Carolina)


I thoroughly enjoyed Surviving an American Gulag. I have included an audio clip of the Author, Edward C. Patterson, reading Lenny from chapter 12. His reading gave definition to some wonderful characters in the book and made it that much more real to me. Gibb's struggle for identity and courage to go after his goals motivated me to go after what I want. American Gulag was an inspiration to become more than what I am.

link to Video Reading excerpt here

Reviewed by Sondi Miller

Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by British Bull Dog at Rainbow Reviews

"When I began reading, I didn't think I'd like this story, but I persisted and found myself liking it, rather a lot by the end.

This story is a diamond, but it's still in the rough. It needs shaping and polishing so it can shine as brightly as I know it can. Private Winslow Gibbs is a caterpillar. The special training unit essentially is his cocoon from which emerges the butterfly. Through those around him, Gibbs is able to realize who he is inside. The below exchange is magnificent in how it encapsulates the journey Gibbs is traveling.

"What should I do?"

"Nothing," Avila said. "Love yourself. That's what's happening here. You're learning to love yourself. Loving others will come naturally after you learn to love yourself."

"But how do you do it? "

"One day at a time. No great plan. I wake up and see the sunshine or the rain and ..."

Gibbs does learn to love himself and the rest follows as Avilla promises. As this story is based on real life, it seems untidy and not neatly packaged. But that is how life is and the story has that indefinable air of truth because of it.

Review by British Bull Dog


Surviving an American Gulag reviewed by Timothy Mulder

A Testament to Fortitude

Reading Gulag was both a pleasure and a source of inspiration.

From a practical perspective, the story is well constructed with characters rendered in such exquisite detail that the reader can feel their defiance, heroism and pain.
While subjectively, Surviving an American Gulag is nothing short of a heart and gut wrenching exploration of true human fortitude.

Private Gibbs, the central, autobiographical character goes through a literal rebirth, an evolution of self, born of the instinctive need to survive and grow.
Caught in a time when the basic civil rights of individuals, who do not meet the exacting standards of the military, are routinely denigrated and dismissed from duty, the rich cast of characters are a testament to personal pride and courage.

The fact that, forty years later, circumstances in the American military are only marginally better, leaves this reader plagued with doubt. Yet, I have only to recall the bravery and resourcefulness of the members of B Platoon, to have my faith restored.

This is a story of what it means to be both human and a soldier. Courage, compassion, honor and the innate need to pursue happiness, regardless of where that path takes you.

A thoroughly enjoyable read!

Review by Timothy Mulder

Review by Thomas Riccobueno

Truly Inspirational

Edward Patterson's tale of military life has left me breathless.

I ache to see this story up on the big screen. Some of the most endearing and inspiring characters, set against the backdrop of a rabidly homophobic bootcamp.

If you're gay and you need a pep-talk, or straight and would like to see real heroes in action, pick up Surviving An American Gulag.

You won't be disappointed!!

Review by Todd A. Fonseca (Minneapolis, MN)


Sometimes the worst prisons are created from within

Winslow Gibbs has no business being the army. He's overweight, out of shape, lonely and different. Unable to get past the first rung on the monkey bars, Gibbs quickly earns the nickname Pillsbury Doughboy in the mess hall. Of course, he doesn't want to be in the army at all, but in 1967, the draft had other ideas. Unable to cut basic training, Gibbs is moved to a new platoon in the Special Training Unit One - the last stop before either making it back to basic or getting a Section 8 which would haunt him for life. He quickly learns that his new unit is the army's equivalent to the land of misfit toys - not just the troops but the sergeants as well. The group also has something else in common, they're all gay. Well all but Gibbs, or so he believes.

Life in Special Unit One is a nightmare. Gibbs is taunted daily by his sergeant. The PT course and twenty-mile walks, turn his body into an aching chafed amorphous blob. Throughout it all though, Gibbs fails to give in continuing to work his body and forge friendships which provide him support and confidence as he takes on each challenge. One day, Gibbs finds his ribs again as his physique takes shape and he frees himself from the physical bondage of his former body. But what of his emotional bondage?

While reading Surviving an American Gulag by Edward C Patterson, I was reminded of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues. Patterson provides a memoir-like novel whose protagonist searches for who he is amidst the chaos and challenges of basic training. This is a poignant novel about how the military treated it's gay recruits and how a rag tag group struggled to overcome substantial obstacles. I found myself cheering for Gibbs in the novel's closing chapters as his confidence and abilities grew along with his self discovery. While Surviving an American Gulag primarily refers to Special Unit One as the Gulag, the parallel gulag is the one Gibbs has created for himself regarding his admission and acceptance of his own homosexuality. Patterson masterfully crafts these two gulags together and Gibbs's triumph over each.

Finally, Patterson gives readers a special treat at the end with a small story called A Dime a Dip. I won't give away it's premise, but suffice to say it was a perfect companion story and closing chapter which brought a tear to my eye. Well done Mr. Patterson.

Review by BookBinder on Kindlebroads

I just finished reading this book and thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Knowing it is based on a true story makes it even more interesting when we see the struggles with inner emotions and the perseverance of one soldier in the military in 1967. I've learned a lot about the Special Training Unit which, if not for this book, I never would have known even existed. I recommend this book to everyone and actually see it as making a good, informative movie. All the characters in this book, bad guys and good guys, will tug at your emotions in a very good way.

Thank you Edward C. Patterson for sharing your life. I wish you continued success and happiness.


The American Gulag, December 9, 2011
By J. C. Willis (Los Angeles, CA USA)

st test a young draftee had ever taken, physically and mentally. Many were "recycled" and had to repeat parts of the training. Others that the Army considered unsuitable for various reasons weren't even given this option but were sent to the "gulag" to either learn acceptable behavior and morals, Army style, or face real prison and/or bad conduct discharge.

Edward Patterson has given us a first-hand look into this obscure place, so hidden in the usual military world. His sufferings and triumphs provide us with a look at a different kind of hero, one that has remained hidden for much of our history, but vital nonetheless. As a fellow draftee, I thank him and his comrades for their service and sincerely regret the obstacles they had to face.

This is an excellent and well-written book and I highly recommend it to any serious student of military history. It should be required reading in the military academies.


Extremely unusual perspective..., September 18, 2011
By Doug DePew "Military Memoirs" (Missouri, USA)

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This review is from: Surviving an American Gulag (Kindle Edition)
This is the second of Edward Patterson's books that I've read. I began it not quite knowing what to expect. I enjoyed the other of his novels immensely, so I did not think I'd be disappointed. I was not.

The book follows Private Winslow Gibbs all the way through his difficult basic training journey. I also went to basic training in Georgia, and the descriptions were precise. Much of it is exactly how I remember. Private Gibbs takes his own side trip through "Special Training Unit" which is the landing place for homosexuals, overweight soldiers, and misfits in general. It's supposed to make them or break them. He makes many friends there and finds out a lot about himself. One scene near the end of the book is so well written that it gave me chills. I won't spoil the plot, but I think you'll know the scene when you get there.

What strikes me the most about this book is the authenticity. The dialogue sounds like soldiers sound. The personalities are like people I know. The places felt like places I've been. Mr. Patterson paints a picture unlike many other authors I've read. This is a book that is well worth reading that sheds light on a little known aspect of the military experience. I recommend it highly.


Ft. Gordon, Georgia revisited, May 25, 2011
By joel "dmzvet" (chambersburg)

In 1957 i was stationed at Ft. Gordon, Georgia for my second eight weeks of training.
Mr. Patterson has captured the place with rare insight. In 1957 there was no second chance for failing the first eight weeks training, you were gone.

Back in 1957 the Army had to cope with desegregation and a new black present on the base. No other place in south did segregation rear its ugle head as in Georgia.

One vivid memory that i have is the bus ride into Augusta. The black soldiers would exit the bus in the black community while us white folks would travel downtown to the still segregated bus depot. South was still very south in those days.

While the black, white in not addressed by Mr. Patterson in his Army experience i sense an undertone of it. Basically he is addressing the bottom feeders in the Army who the Army looked on as cannon fodder for Vietnam, where many black draftee solders ended up.

A very good book of his Army experience and i plan on reading more of his works.


A Remarkable Coming-of-Age Story, February 28, 2011
By Dawnofday "Dawnofday" (Roanoke, VA USA)

First, let me say that this is getting one of my rather rare five star reviews. I have to find a novel truly special in some way to give those. This one rates it.

This coming-of-age-story but it is much more than that. At any age one has to deal with one's weakness and learn the courage to deal with them. This is what young Winslow Gibbs die during his six months in boot camp. The fact that the young Gibbs in the course of this has to deal with realizing that he is gay during a period when being gay could mean prison adds to the poignancy, but is by no means close to all of the story.

The characterization is also excellent. Through Gibbs's eyes we see and become intimately acquainted with a platoon of unique characters all struggling to survive the rigors of a "gulag", bitter hardship and the knowledge that they face more beyond boot camp.

From being soft both physically and emotionally, Gibbs grows and matures. He struggles to find the strength within his body and his "soul". This is a beautiful book. Whether male of female, gay or straight, this novel is very much worth your time to read and to root for Winslow Gibbs.


Well-crafted coming-of-age story, December 19, 2010
By Dana Taylor (California)

Since I joined the ranks of Kindle authors about a year ago, I've noticed a consistent presence in the threads and the discussion boards, all the cyber hang-outs of Indie Authors. Edward C. Patterson has been a prominent marketer, voice of reason and source of good advice. It was time to see if he could also write. Browsing down the long list of Mr. Patterson's body of work, I settled upon "Surviving an American Gulag" because it appeared to be based on memoir, which would give me greater insight into the personality of the author himself. Immediately, I discovered one thing. Yes, the man can definitely write. This coming-of-age-story of obese, young Winslow Gibbs' six months in a Southern boot camp could have been told in many ways. Patterson's particular way with words is efficient, vivid and wry. His ability to choose just the right word to convey a character's responses filled me with admiration. (For instance, a certain dimwitted soldier "gawped"--he didn't "stare" or even "gape"--he "gawped.") Reading this story during the week that "Don't Ask/ Don't Tell" was officially struck down made it especially poignant. Through the eyes of Gibbs, Patterson paints a platoon of unique characters all struggling to survive the rigors of the "gulag" and society itself. I found myself rooting for Gibbs, hoping he would do better than "survive." Indeed, he does. He thrives--finding first his ribs and then his personal truths. This is a beautiful book. I look forward to reading more of Mr. Patterson's stories.


A VERY IMPORTANT TOPIC, September 29, 2010
By J. D. Michael Phelps "Michael Phelps" (Miami, Florida

SURVIVING AN AMERICAN GULAG by EDWARD C. PATTERSON is an amazing story that must be a TRUE story in every respect. Not even the masterful Writer EDWARD C. PATTERSON could make this up.

Winslow Gibbs is a very over-weight boy from Brooklyn, New York who is drafted into the United States Army at the height of the Viet Nam War. He is physically unfit to make it through the physical rigors of Boot Camp; however with the demand of having fighting men rushed into the jungles of Viet Nam, the U. S. Army could not afford to lose any one. They devised a "Special" training unit; "The Gulag", as it was known. In this unit, Gibbs and his fellow trainees are whipped into physical condition by the constant pressure and harsh physical training and strict diets.
Although some did not make it; Gibbs was not about to give up.

Near the end of the training, Gibbs develops a strong bond with Franciso Avila . . . and discovers he is Gay, as is Avila. Both reject the idea of using their sexual orientation to seek a discharge. They tough-it-out, and survive the intense training and the taunts regarding their sexuality.

EDWARD C. PATTERSON has penned a TRUE-TO-LIFE NOVEL that is so important TODAY!
Having served in the United States Air Force - Air Police/Combat Defense Forces, I know from personal experience that there have been many, many fine patriotic and dedicated MEN and WOMEN, who served, though forced to keep their sexual orientation "in the closet". President Clinton sought to "push this fact under the rug", with the backing of Congress and the "Don't Ask - Don't Tell" law. What a hipocritical farce foisted upon the American People. It is time to allow EVERY American the right to serve his/her country, no matter what their sexual orientation may be. Current policy reminds me of the Segregation during World War II. Prior to 1946, all Americans of African decent were segregated, yet served with honor and distinction!

"SURVIVING AN AMERICAN GULAG" should be sent to every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and every Senator and United States Congress person.

Personally, I salute Author EDWARD C. PATTERSON, and I thank him for his service to our country.

Michael Phelps


A Misfit's Story of Discovery

At the beginning of the book Private Winslow Gibbs is such a mess that I couldn't imagine him succeeding. He is obese, soft, naive, and clueless about who he is. After being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War era, he has failed miserably at basic training. He is then sent to "The Gulag," The Special Training Unit, which is the Army's answer to people like Gibbs. Gibbs finds himself surrounded by misfits like himself and then he learns that the other trainees in his group are gay.

The harsh treatment by those in charge and the constant threat of being exposed as "queer" and sent to the stockade hangs over the poor misfits of the Unit. Their days are filled with constant harassment by the drill sergeants and physical training that would be difficult for normal weight men, let alone someone as overweight as Gibbs. Not only is he marched twenty miles carrying a full load of battle gear, he is also made to run laps and do demanding physical drills in all weather conditions. As the crowning blow, he is labeled a Pillsbury Doughboy and put on a starvation diet. At this point I expected Gibbs to either give up or collapse, but he perseveres, becoming a better person. The weigh melts off his body and at the same time that he becomes physically fit, he begins to learn about himself and the real world. He comes to know and appreciate his bunkmates for who they are as people. Most importantly of all, he comes to know himself. Gibbs eventually realizes that he, too, is gay. With this realization comes an awakening and an inner acceptance.

Surviving An American Gulag is a poignant and masterfully written story. The characters are well-drawn, the dialogue authentic, and the descriptions put me right into the scene. I would love to see this book made into a movie.


Splendid, May 27, 2010 - See all my reviewsThis review is from: Surviving an American Gulag (Kindle Edition)
I don't normally give 5 star ratings to authors that haven't established a track record in my library, but I've got to make an exception here. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that DADT is being voted on soon, or maybe that the vote is long overdue, but this novel really struck its mark with me.

The story relates the trials of Private Winslow Gibbs, an obese and fumbling mess of a soldier, and his development as both a man and a soldier. Fantastic read. Thank you Ed.


A heartwarming story!, April 13, 2010
By D. Lockwood (Kerrville, TX USA)

At the book's beginning, the situation is dire. Our main character is frozen and not coping well with the rigors of basic training. His world soon becomes his worst nightmare, but by the end, he has fully blossomed into a soldier and become aware and proud of himself. I found this book captivating. I was pushing for Winslow to succeed, and was so pleased when he finally came into himself. I am neither male nor gay, but I found this book to be inspirational. If he can make it through the gulag, there is so much I can do.