The First Circle by Alexsandr I. Solzhenitsyn

$ 14.00

The First Circle by Alexsandr I. Solzhenitsyn is a 580-page hardcover published by Harper & Row, 1968.  The dust jacket is encased in a protective clear plastic cover but shows wear.  Inside, there are some light stains to the outside page edges but inside, the pages are clean and unmarked and the binding is tight.

Book Summary

The first circle of Dante's Hell--where the souls of the pre-Christian philosophers are doomed to exist throughout eternity--stands in this novel as a metaphor for certain penal institutions of Stalin's Russia.  These were scientific research centers, operating from within special prisons and staffed by political prisoners--physicists, mathematicians, electrical engineers, technicians.  They were luxurious in comparison with other prisons and the hard-labor camps of the far north--from which many of their inmates were drawn, to which many would return:  the prisoners were fed enough to ensure their effectiveness; they slept between sheets.  But their prison terms were long, their contacts with the world of freedom minimal, and an administrator's whim was enough to ship them to the lower circles of Hell.

Much of the action of The First Circle takes place in one such research center on the outskirts of Moscow, during the four days from December 24 through 27, 1949.  It ranges from there to the apartments and streets of a university the offices of awesome men with absolute power over the lives of others, who are themselves the terror-ridden chattels of one man.  It enters even his small, fortified, windowless workroom.  There, the 70-year-old Stalin plans a new purge, a new assassination, greater monuments to himself...

The hero of The First Circle is the prisoner Nerzhin, a brilliant mathematician.  At the age of 31, Nerzhin has, like the author, survived the war years on the German front and the postwar years in a succession of Russian prisons and labor camps.  His story is interwoven with the stories of a dozen fellow prisoners--each an unforgettable human being--from the prison janitor to the nearsighted genius who designed the Dnieper dam; the reigning intellectuals and their friends in high places; and the women, wretched or privileged, bound to these men.  As we follow Nerzhin's fortunes we become familiar with the inner paths of an entire society--one vast Inferno--and the diverse ways by which different men and women managed--or failed--to live within it.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:  68-54547