In his monumental narrative of the outbreak of the First World War and the ill-fated Russian offensive into East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn has written what Nina Krushcheva, in The Nation, calls "a dramatically new interpretation of Russian history." The assassination of tsarist prime minister Pyotr Stolypin, a crucial event in the years leading up to the Revolution of 1917, is reconstructed from the alienating viewpoints of historical witnesses. The sole voice of reason among the advisers to Tsar Nikolai II, Stolypin died at the hands of the anarchist Mordko Bogrov, and with him perished Russia's last hope for reform. Translated by H.T. Willetts.
August 1914 is the first volume of Solzhenitsyn's epic, The Red Wheel; the second is November 1916. Each of the subsequent volumes will concentrate on another critical moment or "knot," in the history of the Revolution. Translated by H.T. Willetts.
About the Author
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918, received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, and was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974. Until 1994, when he returned to Russia, he lived and worked in Vermont, primarily on The Red Wheel.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in 1918. In February 1945, while he was captain of a reconnaissance battery of the Soviet Army, he was arrested and sentenced to an eight-year term in a labor camp and permanent internal exile, which was cut short by Khrushchev's reforms, allowing him to return from Kazakhstan to Central Russia in 1956. Although permitted to publish One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962—which remained his only full-length work to have appeared in his homeland until 1990—Solzhenitsyn was by 1969 expelled from the Writers' Union. The publication in the West of his other novels and, in particular, of The Gulag Archipelago, brought retaliation from the authorities. In 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, stripped of his Soviet citizenship, and forcibly flown to Frankfurt. Solzhenitsyn and his wife and children moved to the United States in 1976. In September 1991, the Soviet government dismissed treason charges against him; Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994. He died in Moscow in 2008.
Read an Excerpt
The Red Wheel. Knot I
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, H. T. Willetts
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1983 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
All rights reserved.
They left the village in the clear dawn light. As the sun rose the mountains were dazzling white with dark blue hollows, every indentation could be seen, and they looked so close that a stranger might have thought them a two hours' drive away.
The Caucasus loomed huge and elemental in a world of small man-made things. If all the people who had ever lived had opened their arms as wide as they could to carry all that they had ever made, or ever thought of making, and piled it up in swelling heaps, they could not have raised such an unbelievable mountain range.
The road from the village to the station kept the mountains continually before them as though those snowy expanses, those bare crags, those shadows hinting at invisible ravines were their destination. But from one half hour to the next, as the snow began to thaw on the lower slopes, the range seemed to part company with the earth, and its upper third hung suspended in the sky. It became shrouded in mist, so that there were no ribs or seams to show that these were mountains, and they saw instead what looked like a vast white cloud bank. This broke into fragments indistinguishable from real clouds. Then they too were washed away. The range disappeared as though it had been a celestial mirage, and wherever they looked they saw only grayish, heat-blanched sky. They drove on till noon and beyond, for more than fifty versts, without changing direction, until the giant mountains retreated as rounded foothills closed in—the Camel, the Bull, the bald Snake, and the wooded Iron Hill.
They had set out when the road was not yet dusty and the steppe was cool and wet with dew. They traveled through the hours when the steppe took wing and rang with birdcalls, and the hours when there were only low whistles, chirrups, rustlings in the grass. Now they were driving into Mineralnye Vody, trailing a lazy dust cloud, at the deadest hour of the afternoon, when there was nothing to be heard but the steady wooden rattle of their cart—the noise of hooves was muffled by the dust. The subtle scents of plants had faded in those few hours, and now there was only the heavy smell of sun-scorched air laced with dust. The cart, the hay strewn on its floor, and they themselves smelled the same, but they had been steppe dwellers from earliest childhood, they liked the smell, and the heat could not worry them.
Their father had grudged them the use of his sprung carriage, and they were so badly shaken and jolted when the horses trotted that they had come most of the way at walking pace. They drove between wheat fields and grazing herds, past barren salt flats, across shallow gullies and streambeds, some dry, some with a little water. They saw no real rivers, and not a single large village. It was Sunday morning, and the road was deserted—they met no one and no one overtook them; yet Isaaki, who was always patient and today even quieter and more thoughtful than usual, did not find those eight hours tedious but could have gone on for twice as long, with the unnecessary reins slack in his hand, gazing over horse's ears from under his battered straw hat.
Yevstrat, his younger half brother, who would have to travel all the way back by the same road that night, slept at first on the hay behind Isaaki's back, then stirred, rose to his feet, looking around for something in the hay, jumped down, ran a little way from the cart, and caught up again. He couldn't keep still a moment, he chattered, he asked questions: "Why do you feel as if you're going backwards when you close your eyes?"
Yevstrat had now moved into the second class of the Pyatigorsk high school, although his father had at first wanted him, as he had Isaaki, to attend only the nearby middle school. His other brothers and sisters had seen nothing and knew nothing except the land, and cattle, and sheep, and they had done well enough, hadn't they? Isaaki had been sent to school a year later than he should have been, and his father had held on to him for a year after high school, refusing at first to be persuaded that something called a university should come next. But oxen will move a heavy load not by tugging but by steady pulling, and Isaaki could always get his way with his father by patient insistence.
Isaaki loved his native Sablinskaya, their farm ten versts from the village, and farm work, and during this summer vacation he had joined with a will in the mowing and threshing. In his plan for the future he combined his original way of life with what he had accumulated as a student. But from year to year this became more unrealistic: his education was slowly but inexorably separating him from his past, the people in his village, and his family.
He was one of only two students in the village. The villagers found their appearance and their conversation strange and ridiculous. As soon as they got home they hurriedly changed into their old clothes. Isaaki was, however, pleased about one thing: village gossip distinguished him from the other student, calling him (humorously) "the Narodnik." Whoever first thought of it, and however it caught on, everyone started using the nickname. There had been no Populists in Russia for a long time, but Isaaki, though he would never have dared call himself that out loud, thought of himself as a Narodnik for want of a better word to describe one who obtains an education for the sake of the people, and "goes to the people" with his book learning, his eloquence, and his love.
In fact, even returning to his family was almost impossible. Having given in to the incomprehensible university three years earlier, his father did not retract his decision, but he came to feel that he had made a mistake and lost his son. The only use he got from him was during the vacations, when he could put him to work on the farm; but in the long months of Sanya's absences his father could not see the sense of all that book learning.
He and his father would have remained close but for his stepmother, Marfa, a bold, domineering, greedy woman who kept the whole household on a short rein, making sure that no one stood in the way of her own children. Isaaki's older brothers and sisters had already moved out, and because of his stepmother his father and his own home were becoming strange to him. While he was still a boy Sanya had eyed them and wondered what powerful urge compelled a man widowed in his forties to take a second wife in her twenties, and one so sharp that when he was touching sixty he still could not rule his own household or indeed have much say in its affairs.
Newly acquired views also helped to make Isaaki feel a stranger. As a child he had been naïvely, uncomprehendingly aware of fasts and saints' days, he had gone barefoot to night services—but later on almost everyone he met had tried to talk him out of the religion of most Russians. Sablinskaya itself and their whole district were dotted with sectarian communities—Molokane, Dukhobors, Stundists, Jehovah's Witnesses. His stepmother came from one such group, and his father's allegiance to the Church became weaker. Arguments about different faiths were a favorite pastime in their locality. Sanya used to go along and listen until the views of Count Tolstoy made all these rival creeds equally foreign to him. There was intellectual confusion in the cities too; even the educated did not always understand each other, and Tolstoy's teaching settled all things so convincingly, demanding only truthfulness. Alas, within the family he could not practice it. Tolstoy's truth made it necessary for him to tell a lie: having become a vegetarian, he could not possibly explain that it was for reasons of conscience without incurring the disgust and derision of his family and all the village. Instead, he had to begin by telling a lie: some German medical man had discovered that abstaining from meat ensured long life. When he had tossed enough sheaves around, his body craved meat, and it was hard work deluding himself that potatoes and beans were all he needed.
His estrangement from his family had made the decision to leave home easier, but he could not be open about his intentions. He told a lie about having to return to the university early to do some practical work—and then had to invent the practical work and make it comprehensible to his unschooled father.
All that their village knew of the war in its first three weeks were the Tsar's manifestos declaring war on Germany and Austria—which were read out in church and then posted in the square outside—the departure of two parties of reservists, and an additional roundup of horses for dispatch to the district capital, because the villagers of Sablinskaya now counted not as Terek Cossacks but as Russians. Apart from this there might have been no war. Newspapers never reached the village, and it was too early for letters from the army in the field. Indeed the very concept was a strange one. To "get a letter" in their village was pretentious, ostentatious, and Sanya discouraged letter writers. None of the Lazhenitsyn family was called up: the oldest brother was overage and his son was already in the army, the middle brother had some fingers missing, Isaaki was a student, and his stepmother's children were too young.
Nor did they see any sign of war on their half day's ride over the wide steppe.
They had crossed the bridge over the Kuma, rattled over the sun-baked railway track by the stony crossing, drove along the grassy street of Kumskaya, now called Mineralnye Vody, and still they noticed no signs of war. Life was so reluctant to be turned upside down! Wherever it could it went on in its old, quiet way.
They pulled up in the shade of a big elm by a well. Yevstrat was to wait there while the horses cooled down, water them, and then drive on to the station. Sanya washed, splashing himself down to the waist, using up two bucketfuls, got Yevstrat to pour icy water on his back from a dark tin mug, toweled himself dry, put on a clean white shirt and a belt, then left his things in the cart and went off empty-handed toward the station, avoiding the dust.
A little garden had been planted a short while ago to beautify the station approach, but hens had pecked its edges ragged and it was covered with a layer of dust from charabancs and carts driving up to the long station building. But a light awning on slender painted columns shading the Mineralnye Vody platform and the cooling breeze that blew along it spoke of the nearby watering places and their delights. Wild vines twined around the columns, and the whole place had the look of a cheerful summer resort. Here too there was nothing to indicate that anyone had ever heard of the war. Ladies in bright dresses and men in tussore followed porters to the departure platform for Kislovodsk. You could buy ice cream, mineral water, colored balloons.
And newspapers. Sanya bought one, and after a moment's thought another, and began opening them even before he sat down on a bench near the platform. Contrary to his usual methodical way, he skipped from column to column, leaving news items half read, and his face brightened as he went along. Good, good! Major Russian victory at Gumbinnen! The enemy will be compelled to evacuate all Prussia. ... Things are also going well in Austria. ... The Serbs too have won a victory! ...
True to his farm boy's habit of wasting nothing, he folded the papers up, taking care not to crumple or tear them, as if he expected to need them forever, rose, and went to the ticket office to inquire about trains. He was making his way steadily through the press of bustling passengers, looking at no one, when suddenly a girl dashed out of the crowd. He assumed that she was rushing for a train, did not turn to look, and realized that she was coming toward him only when she threw her arms around his neck, hugged him and kissed him—then recoiled as though amazed by her own boldness, and stood there red in the face but happy.
"Sanya! Is it really you? Wha-at a coincidence! All the way from Petersburg I've been ..."
Her arms had been around him for only half a second, but she had scattered his thoughts and he stood there confused by the elusive feelings that her sudden swoop had stirred in him, feelings that had to do not only with the touch of sun-warmed lips.
Varya, an old friend from the Pyatigorsk high school. They had not seen each other since. They had written occasional letters at first. In those days, she had had the straight-combed hair of a motherless girl, but now her hair was bobbed and fluffed out and she wore an excited, triumphant expression.
"For some reason I kept thinking, what if I suddenly run into you! I knew it couldn't happen, but all the same ... I even thought of sending a telegram to the village, but I knew you wouldn't like it ..."
Sanya stood and smiled. He was taken aback by the change in her since she had left school, by the unexpectedness of it, by the frightening thought of the telegram (it would have exploded like a bomb in the Lazhenitsyn household), and by the warmth of her presence.
"I've been traveling for more than three days," she said happily. "My guardian is dying, and I have to go and say goodbye to him. It isn't the most comfortable time to be traveling, the trains are packed. ... What about you? Are you going somewhere? Or just meeting somebody?"
He was tempted to say, "Yes, you." Her sudden descent on him, her unconstrained manner tempted him to make a silly joke of it. "I'm here because I had a dream about you. Can it really be you?" She stood there, still out of breath, leaning toward him.
Varya had never been beautiful, and had not become more so since her school days; her chin was a little too stubborn and masculine, her nose a little too long, but her flushed pleasure in meeting him made her pretty.
"Do you remember? Do you ...? How we met on the boulevard once, unexpectedly? It must be fate! Listen, Sanya, where are you going now? I'm sure you can make time if you want to. Let's spend a little while together. Shall I stay in Mineralnye a bit? Or if you like we'll both go to Pyatigorsk. I leave it to you to decide."
She spoke in rapid, jerky sentences, with the same palpitating excitement that had swept her toward him. The pure and lofty feelings with which Sanya had left home that morning and gazed upon the snow and the deep blues of the rugged range as he traveled were disturbed, blurred, confused. The mood he had cherished evaporated as suddenly as the range had dissolved into cloud.
Life is an eternal struggle with temptation: eat no meat, but, oh, how I want some; do no evil, but doing good is so difficult. ... If he went for a walk with her in Mineralnye Vody people from the village would see him and tell tales at home. But going to Pyatigorsk would be a nonsensical digression. Hotels and restaurants were out of the question. He had just enough for his ticket and not a kopeck more.
He thought wistfully of his special morning. But he was surprised to find that he would have been sorry not to have met Varya. He felt that he was perfectly capable of going with her.
Her sharp features lit up when she saw that he was willing to go, but she could not check herself and asked with shrill insistence, "Where are you going? And why?"
She herself had reminded him why he could not listen to her.
He smiled vaguely, and said to humor her, "I'm on my way to Moscow." He looked down and sideways, guiltily. "I'm stopping off at Rostov first. I've got a friend there, Konstantin. Maybe you know him?"
"But the term doesn't start for another three weeks!" Her arm, bare to the elbow, reached out and caught him firmly, peremptorily, by his elbow. "Do you think they may call you up?" she said anxiously, tightening her grip. "A fourth-year student? Never! What are you going for?"
He couldn't tell her just like that, in so many words, it would trivialize his intention. He gave an embarrassed smile.
"Well, you see ... I get restless back home on the farm."
She started, tossed her head like a startled horse, then clutched both his hands.
Excerpted from August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, H. T. Willetts. Copyright © 1983 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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