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Apricot Jam: And Other Stories
352 pp., $28.00
Edward E. Ericson, Jr.
The Unknown Solzhenitsyn
Why have hardly any of today's college graduates heard of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Because, broadly speaking, there were two kinds of Solzhenitsyn readers, those who stopped reading him in the 1970s and those who did not, and most journalists stopped. They had lionized him for disclosing the horrors of the world's first concentration-camp system. For his writing the book of the century while on the run, they made him a hero, then a celebrity. Then they moved on. Solzhenitsyn was history. And you know about the young not knowing about history.
The writer's next third of a century is the busy era of the Unknown Solzhenitsyn. To this time we can assign his greatest work (he says), The Red Wheel, most of which appeared then, though he worked on it for more than half a century. Five thousand pages of historical fiction is not the likeliest magnet for new readers. Descriptions of works yet to be published in English may be found in The Soul and Barbed Wire: An Introduction to Solzhenitsyn. Just now, however, appears a collection of short stories titled Apricot Jam and Other Stories that could refresh his supply of readers. These are high-quality, engaging works, vintage Solzhenitsyn in content, modestly experimental in form, and—let us say together—short. The stories, with one exception, represent the subgenre that the author calls "binary tales," which are distinguished by a structure of two juxtaposed parts. This collection's assiduous attention to aesthetic concerns may help re-focus and re-energize Solzhenitsyn studies. And would it be too much to hope for an end to the silliness that he jettisoned literature in favor of polemics?
These stories, translated by Kenneth Lantz except for one by Stephan Solzhenitsyn, present a variety of protagonists: young and old, military and civilian, proletarians and kulaks. They cover a range of times: the early 1920s, World War II, even peeks into post-Soviet times. What makes these disparate stories feel unified is the omnipresence ...