STORIES AND PROSE POEMS by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


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Solzhenitsyn writes in the great Russian tradition of celebrating the calamity of being born a Russian. No literature seems to have more harrowing things to say about its country, yet none turns towards its earth, its history, its people with such compassion or rude pride. Dostoevsky may have thought Russia a barbarian's paradise, but he spent his life "bearing witness" to her destiny, her spirit. This, of course, is the essence of Russian realism, and also of Solzhenitsyn's art. What has happened to him as a prisoner of the state, and as an individual Russian, he makes known, whether as graphic confession (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) or as symbolic melodrama (The First Circle). In these tales and novellas and prose poems his heroes are everyday martyrs who speak of renewal. They ask, as did so often Tolstoy's characters, what a man must do to be saved; they honor human endurance or mourn the loss. It is a subject peculiarly poignant to the Soviet scene where the private life is programmatically uncultivated and the sprawling public replacement seems so often bare, mean, and corrupt. "An Incident at Krechetovka Station" captures the terrors of the war years in the fleeting friendship of a persecuted actor and a young officer forced to give him away. "Matryona's House" depicts the humble life-enriching character of a peasant woman and her disaffiliated intellectual lodger; it has a wondrous melancholy suffused with a festive strain -- as good as anything in Turgenev. Irony, of course, is everywhere, but Solzhenitsyn does not have the nervy gloom of his compatriot Amalrik who pictures a future of utter chaos and cultural despair. His new collection, with its stoical, plain, inward beauty, movingly reminds us that Solzhenitsyn seems never to have written a line that was not somehow tinged with hope.
Pub Date: July 19th, 1971
ISBN: 0374511160
Page count: 267pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1971


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