Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile

Joseph Pearce, Author Baker Books $19.99 (356p) ISBN 978-0-8010-1204-4
Once a darling of the West for his high-profile rejection of Sovietism, Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn lost some of his elevated status when his religious views became known. This comprehensive if uncritical biography of the winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature is based in part on Pearce's exclusive interviews with his subject. Pearce details Solzhenitsyn's transformation from an ardently Marxist youth into a literary anachronism in post-Soviet Russia, with the bulk of the text focusing on the author's mid-century experiences. Solzhenitsyn spent years in a Soviet labor camp, then in exile in the gulag after being jailed for anti-Soviet sentiments found in his letters, and eventually was able to leave for the U.S. He emerged as a vociferous critic of the Soviet regime and a writer of international renown, with his memoir of his life in the gulag, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, among his most famous works. Pearce explores Solzhenitsyn's literary output, emphasizing its cultural context and impact. During the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn lost critical support when he began to denounce what he considered from a religious standpoint the selfish materialism of the West. Ever the scholar, he located the origin of the problem in the transition between the sensibilities of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Pearce, who has penned biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, gives little credence to Solzhenitsyn's critics. So readers will gain a detailed impression of one of the leading intellectuals of the mid-20th century, but only an incomplete understanding of his latter-day contexts. B&w photos. (Feb. 1) Forecast: This book could be a tough sell, with a bio of Solzhenitsyn already in print, from a major writer (D.M. Thomas). However, Baker Book House has made the wise move of pricing its title low for a hardcover--lower even than the trade paperback edition of Thomas's book, and the Pearce has a special draw in that it includes previously unpublished poetry by the Russian author, which will ensure some interest.
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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