The First Circle

Northwestern University Press, 1997 - 580 Seiten
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The First Circle of Dante's Hell -- where the souls of the pre-Christian philosophers are doomed to exist throughout eternity -- stands in this novel as a metaphor for certain penal institutions of Stalin's Russia. Set in Moscow during a three-day period in December 1949, The First Circle is the story of the prisoner Gleb Nerzhin, a brilliant mathematician. At the age of thirty-one, Nerzhin has, like the author, survived the war years on the German front and the post-war years in a succession of Russian prisons and labor camps. His story is interwoven with the stories of a dozen fellow prisoners -- each an unforgettable human being -- from the prison janitor to the tormented Marxist intellectual who designed the Dnieper dam; of the reigning elite and their conflicted subordinates; and of the women, wretched or privileged, bound to these men. As we follow Nerzhin's fortunes, we become familiar with the inner paths of an entire society -- one vast Inferno -- and the diverse ways in which different men and women managed, or failed, to live within it. While Solzhenitsyn portrays the exercise of moral and political authority at all levels of the hierarchy (even devoting a few chapters to a portrait of a failing Stalin), the novel's principal setting is a special prison where inmates conduct scientific research. Through his treatment of the prisoners, the secret police, and the non-prisoner Muscovites trying to lead honest lives during this difficult period, Solzhenitsyn explores the problems of complicity and conscience, ends and means. Included are many reflections on Soviet history of the sort Solzhenitsyn expanded in The Gulag Archipelago. In 1962 the publication of One Day in theLife of Ivan Denisovich brought Solzhenitsyn international fame. Two years later, The First Circle was accepted for publication in a Soviet journal. Its publication was blocked, however, by Soviet authorities; ultimately the manuscript was smuggled abroad and published in translation in 1968. A landmark of Soviet Circle is as powerful today as when it was first published.

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The Fifth Year in Harness

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Über den Autor (1997)

Author and historian Aleksandr Isayevick Solzhenitsyn, considered by many to be the preeminent Russian writer of the second half of the 20th century, was born on December 11, 1918 in Kislovodsk in the northern Caucusus Mountains. In 1941, he graduated from Rostov University with a degree in physics and math. He also took correspondence courses at Moscow State University. Solzhenitsyn served in the Russian army during World War II but was arrested in 1945 for writing a letter criticizing Stalin. He spent the next decade in prisons and labor camps and, later, exile, before being allowed to return to central Russia, where he taught and wrote. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1974, he was arrested for treason and exiled following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago. He moved to Switzerland and later the U. S. where he continued to write fiction and history. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he returned to his homeland. He died due to a heart ailment on August 3, 2008.

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