Book Reviews - Winter 2019

Enigma From the East

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A Soviet émigré’s never-ending battle to be understood

By Gary Saul Morson | December 3, 2018
Solzhenitsyn speaks to reporters in West Germany in February 1974, shortly after his expulsion from the Soviet Union. (Wikimedia Commons)

In February 1974, the Soviet Union stripped its best-known writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, of his citizenship and exiled him to the West. Solzhenitsyn, taking up temporary residence in Switzerland, was confident he knew two things: what the West was like and how his planned novels about the Russian Revolution would unfold. As this first volume of his memoirs demonstrates, he turned out to be wrong about both. An enemy of the Soviet regime, he soon discovered that the culture of the West was also alien to his sensibility. He was caught “between two millstones.”

Another exiled Russian writer, Anatoly Kuznetsov, cautioned Solzhenitsyn against becoming involved in public life too quickly. He needed to acculturate gradually, Kuznetsov explained, the way a deep-sea diver must surface in stages, or he would experience a cultural equivalent of the bends. And that is just what happened.

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