4 members have voted
A long time ago, I dipped into my late grandfather's copy of The Gulag Archipelago. I remember being hooked on the accounts of hardship in Stalin's labour camps but never bothered reading the lengthy chapters on the political context.
Now, I had assumed Solzhenitsyn was long dead and it was a surprise to discover that he had returned to Russia after years of exile and written new stories. I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, the stories are long and very boring.
Seriously, try these as the opening two sentences to a story (Ego): "Even before he reached his thirties, even before the German War, Pavel Vasilyevich Ektov realized that he was a confirmed and perhaps even a natural born activist in the rural cooperative movement, and so he never took up any of the grandiose, earth-shaking causes of the time. In order to keep true to his beliefs, he had to engage in some biter debates on how best to remake the life around him and to resist the temptations and withstand the rebukes of the revolutionary democrats; devoting himself to social change by promoting only small deeds" was something trivial; he was not merely squandering his energy on useless work, he was betraying the whole of humanity for the sake of a few people around him; it was cheap philanthropy that would lead to no great end."
If that floats your boat, then go for it. you've got 365 pages of the stuff - enough for a different page for every day of the year.
Private Eye used to joke about a writer called Solly Neasden (pronounced Solzhenitsyn) who was very boring but feted by the establishment because he was fortunate enough to write books with a popular political message - the struggle of ordinary man against the mindnumbing bureaucracy and oppression of Neasden. In this case, the real Alexandr Solzhenitsyn has become a parody of himself, writing arcane and impenetrable stories about mostly long-passed periods of history (principally the Great Patriotic War). Solzhenitsyn has passed his sell-by date and, like so much from the 1970s, was probably never much chop even at the time.
"The Oak and the Calf: Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union" is a memoir. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes about his attempts to have his work published in his own country and his subsequent role as a dissident. It covers the period from 1960 to 1974.
The book was initially written in April 1967. But as events unfolded supplements were added by the author in 1971, 1973, and 1974.
The book was first published in Russian in 1975 under the title Бодался теленок с дубом (A Calf was Head-butting an Oak Tree). Slzhenitsyn being the calf and the Soviet state being the Oak Tree.
It's a long book but a good read. It probably helps to know something about the author and the importance of literature to Russians. But it isn't essential.
Solzhenitsyn is confident, arrogant, opinionated and often funny. This is a very interesting read for those interested in a part of the history of both the Soviet Union and Soviet writers.