In the First Circle

Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Author, Harry T. Willetts, Translator , trans. from the Russian by Harry T. Willetts. Harper Perennial $18.99 (741p) ISBN 978-0-06-147901-4

This first uncensored translation of what many consider Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece shows the Nobel laureate treading deeply into the logic of Soviet Russia's gulag, if not deeply enough into the minds of his characters. A quest to discover the identity of a rogue Russian diplomat serves as Solzhenitsyn's springboard for a tour of Russia's immense gulag system, slipping from prisoner to jailer to anguished wife (and even detouring through a weary Stalin) to briefly examine the lives of more than 60 significant characters. Each short chapter contributes to a vast mosaic of philosophies and moral dilemmas that, taken together, form a panorama of a Russia gripped by Stalinist terror. Unfortunately, none of the characters steps out from the shadow of the political to become a full-fledged individual; the result is an oddly skewed work, a highly journalistic novel that hits the political and material realities of post-WWII Russia, but that subsumes humanity beneath its ideas. It's more valuable as testimony than as literature, thanks largely to Solzhenitsyn's insight into one of the great abominations of the 20th century. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/10/2009
Release date: 10/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
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