Top 8 Novels of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Updated on July 16, 2019
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Prachi is a voracious reader and a bibliophile. She has her own library with a collection of more than thousands of books of different genre

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

A very successful Russian novelist and short story writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was a very well-known historian as well.

Amazing Facts about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  • A Nobel Prize winner in literature, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 because of his extreme criticizing behavior.
  • He was raised by a widowed mother, who encouraged him to get indulged in literary and scientific learnings.
  • He was involved in World War || as a commander and received the Order of the Red Star for destroying German artillery batteries.
  • He was arrested for writing derogatory comments and generating anti-Soviet propaganda.
  • He was a very discreet writer due to his image of a prisoner and didn’t want anyone to know if he’s writing.
  • He used to highly criticize the dominant pop culture of the West due to its lack of spirituality but was fond of political liberty of the West.
  • He was very outspoken with his political and religious concern for his country, for which he’d to face government aggression several times. He was even banned from the Soviet Union, but later the ban was restored.
  • He was very much concerned about Russia because it was losing faith in God and things were turning drastically serious there, but was relieved after meeting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in 2008. He said that the country can cherish the Russian roots to its fullest now.
  • Several documentaries were made on Solzhenitsyn, most famous ones are Besedy s Solzhenitsynym (The Dialogues with Solzhenitsyn) and L'Histoire Secrète de l'Archipel du Goulag (The Secret History of the Gulag Archipelago).

1. The Gulag Archipelago

Bless you, prison, bless you for being a part of my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to understand that the object of life is not a good fortune as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.

— The Gulag Archipelago
  • The Gulag Archipelago is the Solzhenitsyn’s most famous work. It is a non-fiction book based on people’s lives in the gulag. Gulag was the Communist Soviet forced labor camp system.
  • The information is gathered through multiple trustworthy sources including interviews, reports, diaries, legal documents and his own experience as a prisoner in the gulag.
  • The book discovers the history of the atrocious practices conducted in the forced labor camps where the ordinary and political criminals were sentenced to forced labor.
  • Solzhenitsyn also wrote about the prisoners’ lives, their treatment, and general living conditions.
  • Out of three volumes of the book, Georg Tenno, Solzhenitsyn’s prisoner mate, wrote the first chapter of the third volume, which was so amazing that he offered him to become the co-author, but Tenno declined.
  • George F. Kennan, a US diplomat, called the book the most powerful indictment of political sovereignty ever developed in modern times.
  • The book was the true voice of the whole nation and of all those who suffered.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (film, 1970)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (film, 1970)

2. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Work was a first-rate medicine for every illness.

— One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Based on a life story of a fictitious prisoner named Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, the book describes his one day living in the prison.
  • The setting is in the 1950s in a Soviet labor camp.
  • Despite being innocent, he is imprisoned for ten years in the forced labor camp.
  • He was accused of spying and got captured by the Germans during the World War ||.
  • He is ill and certainly, wakes up late due to which he is not given any exemption and forced to work all day long.
  • After the publication of the novel, Solzhenitsyn was accused of supporting non-Soviet ideological stances and was expelled from the Writers’ Union of Soviet.

3. Cancer Ward

A person is happy as long as he chooses to be happy.

— Cancer Ward
  • Cancer Ward is Solzhenitsyn’s semi-autobiographical novel that discusses his cancer ailment.
  • The story is about a small group of cancer patients who have their own sad pasts and varied experiences and fears.
  • It is the most complete and nearly accurate description of the nature of the disease and its psychological and physical characteristics on the victims.
  • It further tells about the relations between patients and doctors and the horrifying treatment as well as huge chances of death.
  • There’s also a love triangle in the hospital, a patient and two nurses, while with one he is only physically attracted, with others he wishes to get married.
  • The novel ultimately describes the situation of a prisoner who after getting released finds difficulties in finding meaning in the new freedom and how to live it in the best way possible.

In the First Circle's film adaptation 1992
In the First Circle's film adaptation 1992

4. In the First Circle

...it's only on a black day when you begin to have friends.

— In The First Circle
  • In the First Circle is about the life of inhabitants of a sharashka. It was a development bureau of gulag inmates.
  • The novel depicts the lives of these people. Most of whom were academics and technicians and were arrested during World War ||.
  • They enjoy comfortable and normal working conditions in comparison to other prisoners of gulag labor camps.
  • Also called as sharashka seeks or prisoners, they work on tech-related projects to help state security agencies.
  • The novel also talks about the Soviet leaders of that period including Joseph Stalin, who is narcissistic and revengeful.

Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914
Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914

5. August 1914

Intolerance is the first and foremost sign of an inadequate education.

— August 1914
  • August 1914 is a half-fiction and half-historical novel.
  • It is about the deafest of the Imperial Russian Army in East Prussia during the Battle of Tannenberg.
  • The novel was subjected to bitter controversy both from historical and literary points of view due to its fictional description of the situation.
  • The story starts with a general staff officer named Colonel Vorotyntsev who is sent to the Russian Second Army to invade East Prussia.
  • But due to the poor communication and long distances, Vorotyntsev can’t report back to the Grand Duke and thus, no improvement in the outcome of the battle can be done.

Two Hundred Years Together
Two Hundred Years Together

6. Two Hundred Years Together

I had to bury many comrades, but not once did I have to bury a Jew.

— Two Hundred Years Together
  • Two Hundred Years Together is about the history of Jews in the Russian Empire and government attitude towards them.
  • The book led to lots of controversial debates, many termed it unreliable in factual data.
  • It has two volumes, first discusses the harsh life 100,000 Jews during the years 1772 and 1917.
  • The second volume describes the time after 1970 when most of the Jews left Russia for western countries.
  • Solzhenitsyn was quite adamant of the fact that Jews were not at all responsible for the revolution of 1905 and 1917.
  • While many famous writers and historians defended the novel and considered every word written in the novel to be absolutely true, it actually ended up receiving numerous negative reviews.

The Oak and the Calf
The Oak and the Calf

7. The Oak and The Calf

This was a frightful period in my life: to die on the verge of freedom, to see all I'd written, all that gave a purpose to my life thus far, about to end with me…

— The Oak and The Calf
  • The Oak and The Calf is Solzhenitsyn’s memoir about his struggle in publishing his work in his own country.
  • The book has been an essential source of his life and struggle.
  • It also describes his failed attempts in publishing some of his most successful novels such as In The First Circle and Cancer Ward.
  • The book covers incidents from his early age when he lost his father to when he got expelled by the Soviet Union and how he managed to publish his work and become one of the most successful novelists in the world history.

English translation of An Incident at Krechetovka Station
English translation of An Incident at Krechetovka Station

8. An Incident at Krechetovka Station

  • An Incident at Krechetovka Station is based upon the real-life events witnessed by Solzhenitsyn during the World War ||.
  • The story is about an incident at the Krechetvka station that merely lasts for three to four hours described by a Lieutenant called Vasili Zotov, who is short-sighted.
  • It involves a soldier and an actor and a healthy conversation between them, which takes a bad turn and the actor is arrested.
  • The novella was later adapted into a Swedish TV film by the name Ett möte på Kretjetovkastationen in the year 1970.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn wrote mostly about the Russian Revolution and World War || with a little bit of fictional touch. His excellency in writing remarkable novels had been appreciated several times by the literary critics. Also, most of his novels are adapted into films and TV series. Reading his novels will make you perfectly visualize his time and how people were treated at the time of Joseph Stalin.

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    © 2019 Prachi Sharma

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