Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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(6218) Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008). V Kruge Pervom [The First Circle].

Original typescript, mostly first copies. 3 page table of contents pasted in thick card wrappers. 841 looseleaf sheets, onionskin paper. 29cm.

Submitted as a lightly abridged version of the intended novel but not accepted for publication the immense “First Circle” was originally published in its complete form in Russian by the YMCA press, Paris, in 1978. Heavily autobiographical and written in the mid to late fifties the literary behemoth had little chance of ever being published in the USSR, even with Solzhenitsyn’s amendments for his official submission of 1964. Set in an all-too familiar state of society where the simple act of a private phone call by a private citizen involves heavy risk in the form of potentially fatal consequences (the main thematic framework) the novel is critical of Stalinism, of the penal system and its betrayal of the individual in favour of the system and, among other anti-Soviet elements, bitterly satirical of the Soviet legal system presenting the last as being utterly farcical. Wrapped around the vivid descriptions of the obviously deeply personal experiences of systematic brutalities from a régime of which Solzhenitsyn was himself a victim is a very real desire on the part of the State to reduce the human spirit to mere automation in service to the State.
Solzhenitsyn was perhaps the best possible author for whom samizdat acted as the perfect medium. The clandestine and furtive secrecy of those who read and distributed samizdat is so perfectly suited to the urgency and dangerousness of Solzhenitsyn’s writing. Samizdat served as the perfect carrier for his writing and it was samizdat, passed along or sold hand-to-hand and smuggled out of Russia, that brought Solzhenitsyn as a Soviet writer of great importance, literary and historically, to the rest of the world. The very act of seeing this samizdat in person is in itself proof of the domestic importance of samizdat in the Soviet Union. The logistical difficulties in the transportation and the reading of eight hundred and forty-one pages of text in utter secrecy, often kept from family and loved ones, and at constant risk of discovery have huge implications for the sheer importance of the narrative on the bible-paper thin pages. The significance of the production is overwhelming. The paper stock changes of course throughout the novel, the same typewriter was not more than probably not used for the entire novel, some pages are obviously carbon copy but mostly not, the finger smudges of the typists and readers remain: For this novel to exist in samizdat form typist(s) across Russia carefully and silently avoided detection by pressing down one key at a time for every word, paragraph and page until chapters were complete and shared out, chapters that would make their way across the Iron Curtain and translated and published in other languages long before the entire text would ever see the light of day in the language it was written.

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