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In the First Circle Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 13, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061479012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061479014
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Even the title was truncated when The First Circle, an expurgated English translation of Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet-censored masterpiece In the First Circle, was published to acclaim in the West in 1968. Written in the mid-1950s just after Solzhenitsyn’s eight years in the gulag, his nearly fatal bout with cancer, and his sentence to “perpetual” exile in Kazakhstan, this novel of tyranny and transcendence, set in a secret Soviet prison research facility, appears for the first time in full and in sterling English, following the Nobel laureate’s death at age 89 in 2008. In this many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale, Solzhenitsyn interleaves the stories of a grand matrix of compelling characters (women are accorded particular compassion) trapped in a maze of toxic lies, torturous absurdities, and stark brutality. It all begins with diplomat Innokenty Volodin’s anonymous phone call to the American embassy. Imprisoned scientists, most notably linguist Lev Rubin and mathematician (and stoic) Gleb Nerzhin, are put to work identifying his recorded voice, the catalyst for a scorching inquiry into free speech, which is but one strand in Solzhenitsyn’s metaphysical interpretation of incarceration. As the resilient and talented prisoners draw strength from books and conversation, Nerzhin decries humankind’s “astounding capacity to forget” both crimes and punishments. Solzhenitsyn has an antidote: this indelible novel of towering artistry, caustic wit, moral clarity, and spiritual fire. --Donna Seaman

Customer Reviews

Most are relatively minor characters.
Southern California
This magnificent book upholds the most important human values -- freedom, courage, dignity, truth and compassion in the face of totalitarian power.
Alan A. Elsner
Readers certainly have much to unearth and discover in this marvelous rerelease of what is arguably Solzhenitsyn's finest work of fiction.
The Cultural Observer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Mahoney on October 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
The "restored" version of IN THE FIRST CIRCLE gives Anglophone readers access for the very first time to one of the three peaks of Solzhenitsyn's literary universe(the other two being the multivolume works THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO and THE RED WHEEL). The importance of this volume has nothing to do, as one reviewer inaccurately suggested, to "hype" on the part of Harper Collins. It is Solzhenitsyn who repeatedly lamented the fact that the world only knew IN THE FIRST CIRCLE, as it now properly called, in an "ersatz, truncated" form. It is he who in his "Author's Note" to this edition speaks of this edition being the only "authentic" one. His "restoration" of the original work, first published in Russian in the West in 1978, goes far beyond dramatically transforming the opening of the work. New chapters such as chapters 44, 47, and 61 deepen our understanding of Solzhenitsyn's own intellectual odyssey from Marxism to skepticism to a more robust affirmation of natural justice, conscience, and self-limitation, the hallmarks of the Solzhenitsynian intellectual and moral universe. Innokenty Volodin becomes a much more substantial figure in the course of the 96 chapter version of IFC. The great philosophical dialogue between the zeks Nerzhin, Sologdin, and Rubin is substantially fleshed out. There is a new and very suggestive chapter on Stalin making for five and not four chapters on the Soviet tyrant. Solzhenitsyn's hatred of Communism and all its works is even more pronounced in this edition, so much so that he freely countenances the legitimacy of treason against what he regards as a radically evil regime. I should add that the late Harry T. Willetts was Solzhenitsyn's preferred translator for a reason: his rich, supple, and remarkably accurate translations stand head and shoulders above the others.Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on June 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
This new translation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's In The First Circle which appeared in English last year, presents a "restored text" of the Russian novelist's masterwork. It is a towering achievement -- in fact, I cannot think of another 20th century novel that comes close to it in moral authority and humanism.

Reading some of our most acclaimed novelists today, one cannot but be struck by the smallness of their ambition. When was the last time an American or a British writer produced a great, sprawling work of literature encompassing dozens of characters and tackling truly great themes? (I certainly include my own modest works in this criticism). Perhaps the age of such novels is past. Perhaps there's no market for them. But for Solzhenitsyn, writing was an immensely powerful act of individual resistance to a monstrous regime. This magnificent book upholds the most important human values -- freedom, courage, dignity, truth and compassion in the face of totalitarian power.

Solzhenitsyn wrote the book in the 1950s from internal exile in Kazakhstan after he was released from eight years in Gulag prisons and work camps. It describes four days in the lives of prisoners at a special camp for scientists and engineers on the outskirts of Moscow called Marfino.

The Russian slang word for such a prison research institute is "sharashka." Solzhenitsyn himself spent three years at Marfino from 1947 to 1950 and his stay there had a powerful effect on his political, intellectual and spiritual development.

The time is Christmas 1949, just after the celebrations of Stalin's 70th birthday, shortly before he launched a new round of attacks on "Jewish cosmopolitans," a development which is foreshadowed in the novel.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Peter Smallhill on October 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
This publisher's marketing machine (as in an Oct., 2009 Wall Street Journal article by the author of this book's foreward) claims "In the First Circle" is now "finally available in the West". Not exactly. The same text as "In the First Circle" was published in France in 2007 as "Le Premier Cercle".

More importantly, the publishers claim that the previous English version of "The First Circle" was "bowdlerized", not "authentic" and by implication, polluted by Solzhenitsyn's revisions when he attempted to get the book published in the Soviet Union. This is very misleading.

Solzhenitsyn prepared two versions of this novel while writing in Russia in the 1960s. The version now called "In the First Circle", just published in English, was 9 short chapters longer and had a different opening plot line from "The First Circle", which he edited to 87 chapters and unsuccessfully attempted to publish in the Soviet Union.

In that editing, Solzhenitsyn, genius that he was, crafted a far more powerful opening. That's the major difference between the two versions of the novel.

"In the First Circle" (the newly published version) has a young Soviet diplomat, Innokenty Volodin, call the US Embassy in Moscow to warn about a Soviet spy operation in New York related to nuclear military secrets. As such, Innokenty is a 1 in 100 million superman hero (or traitorous villain) who cannot represent ordinary people that lack the ability or the opportunity for such an act.
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