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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: November 1916
The Red Wheel/Knot II

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November 1916: The Red Wheel/Knot II

A vivid and sweeping panorama of Imperial Russia at war on the eve of revolution.

The month of November 1916 in Russia was outwardly unmarked by seismic events--in the author's words, it "encapsulated the stagnant and oppressive atmosphere of the months immediately preceding the Revolution"--but beneath the surface, society, from the Tsar's bizarre and troubled court to the peasants, workers, and ill-led soldiers in the trenches, seethed fiercely. As no other could, Solzhenitsyn makes us experience the whole bubbling cauldron. In Petrograd, luxury store windows are still brightly lit; the Duma debates stormily about the monarchy, the course of war, and clashing paths to reform; the workers in the huge and miserable munitions factories veer increasingly toward sedition. At the front, all is stalemate except for sudden death's capricious visits, while in the countryside sullen anxiety among hard-pressed farmers is rapidly replacing patriotism. In Zurich, Lenin, with the smallest of all revolutionary groups, plots his sinister logistical miracle. With masterly and moving empathy, through the eyes of both historical and fictional protagonists, the author unforgettably transports us to that time and place--the last of pre-Soviet Russia.

Finally, Solzhenitsyn has published the second installment of his Red Wheel trilogy. Continuing from the first book in the trilogy, August 1914 (1972), in which he chronicled the early years of Russia's involvement in World War I, the second volume tells of the later part of the war and the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. The story takes place between October 27 and November 17, 1916, a period that the author claims contains "relatively few events of historical significance." What Solzhenitsyn provides, however, is a marvelous tapestry of occurrences, both factual and fictitious, that conveys life in Russia during this period. He focuses on a number of well-developed characters involving all aspects of Russian life at this time, including the peasantry, intelligentsia, gentry revolutionaries, and soldiers at the front. These characters' lives intermingle with the lives of real historical personages, such as Tsar Nikolas and Tsarina Aleksandra, fiercely struggling to save the dynasty; politicians, arguing in the Duma; and Lenin, plotting revolution in Zurich. Through these intertangled lives, Solzhenitsyn presents a wonderfully epic portrayal of life in the very last vestiges of pre-revolutionary Russia. Despite the heady historical matter (for which the author himself apologizes!), this distinguished tome is a worthy sequel to its exciting predecessor its publication definitely qualifies a literary event. --Michael Spinella, Booklist

Solzhenitsyn achieves something exceedingly rare among novelists dealing with history . . . he gets a sense of the past not as something to be understood in the light of the present, but as a teeming womb of incalculability and possibility. --John Bayley, The New York Book Review

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