Book Review: 'Apricot Jam'

Apricot Jam is a newly posthumously published collection of short pieces by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The late Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, spent two decades in exile here in the United States, but after the iron curtain fell in the 1990s, he made the journey back to Russia, where he continued to write.

Now, eight of the stories he authored in his later years are available in English for the first time. The collection is called "Apricot Jam." Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The two contradictory sides of Soviet life reveal themselves to us in "Apricot Jam." The title story opens with a letter to a famous Soviet writer from a peasant whose family was imprisoned during Stalin's brutal campaign against the so-called kulaks during the days of Russian's great famine.

The writer grapples with the devastating implications of the letter, revealing what Solzhenitsyn in a later story calls the fracture of modern Russian life. We see this fracture demonstrated again and again in other stories, finding ourselves deeply ensconced in the struggles of such groups as the kulaks rebelling against Stalin's oppression and in the battles fought by heroic Soviet troops on the German front in World War II.

In stories such as "Adlig Schwnkitten," the site of a battle, the tank soldiers see these skirmishes from the ground up. In "Times of Crisis," General Zhukov, Stalin's great military leader, sees them from the top down with ironic, if not devastating, results.

In the jargon of the old Soviet regime, Solzhenitsyn is a wrecker of epic proportions, revealing the soft intellectual underbelly of Soviet thought and shining bright light on the iron fist the Stalinists used on the ordinary heroes of the Soviet era.

From the tiniest details of everyday life, the scarcity of school notebooks to the grandest, the massive starvation in the countryside, and ranging from the early 1920s to the post-World War II period, these stories in "Apricot Jam" give us the feel, as well as the understanding, of these troubled, troubled times.

NORRIS: The collection of stories from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is titled "Apricot Jam." Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.