Book Review: 'Apricot Jam'

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


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


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.

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