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First Circle [Paperback]

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
Price: 15.86 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

4 Aug 1988

At the height of Stalin's postwar terror, Innokenty, a young diplomat and scion of a corrupt ruling class, discovers an earlier and more spiritual tradition than that adopted by the October Revolution, the beginning of a process which is Solzhenitsyn's basic theme: the individual's experience of acquiring an immortal soul.

Unwisely but generously, Innokenty helps a friend in danger of arrest, only to be arrested himself and sent to a special prison. This, the archetype of the Gulag, is described with masterful psychological insight. There are no heroes and hardly any villains; oppressors are no less victims then the oppressed.

In the great tradition of the Russian novel, The First Circle is both a brooding account of human nature and a scrupulously exact description of a historical period.


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First Circle + Cancer Ward + One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press; New e. edition (4 Aug 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860460909
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860460906
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 309,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A great novel... A majestic work of genius" (Sunday Times)

"The First Circle is arguably the greatest Russian novel of the century" (Spectator)

"A future generation of Russians will be able to come to terms with their history through books like Doctor Zhivago and The First Circle" (Financial Times)

Book Description

One of the greatest Russian novels of all time, this epic explores the dark side of Soviet life in the final years of Stalin's reign of terror.

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Customer Reviews

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4.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to read again. 23 Feb 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I first read this book 30 years ago. On finishing it this time I felt the same regret as then.
The theme is so bleak that it could be unbearable. It is kept from being so by three things. The first is the real possibility of good overcoming evil. The second is the ability of love to reanimate even the most hopeless situations. The third is the potential strength of the human spirit in such circumstances
Although its setting is most unusual, the characters are easily recognisable. They might have become stereotypes. Happily they are all too human for that.
This is a wonderful, if desperate, book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in the Soviet Camps 8 April 2006
Format:Paperback
Solzhenitsyn is probably most famous for 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich', which was the first introduction most Russians had to the horrors of the labour camps. 'TFC' is an equally important book, describing three days in the workings of a 'special camp'. The special camps were camps to which skilled prisoners were sent to work on prestige projects for Stalin (such as a telephone scrambler, described in this book), and were not marked by the disease and starvation of the labour camps, or the isolation ('The First Circle' is set in a camp just outside Moscow). It was the book that was confiscated from Solzhenitsyn in 1964, and one that contributed to the decision to send him into exile.
'The First Circle' follows a group of prisoners over the course of a Christmas weekend, especially Gleb Nerzhin, and observes their behaviour towards the authorities that have put them there. Although not in imminent danger of starvation or execution, they despair of ever being released, while simultaneously suffering the guilt of the knowledge that others less fortunate than themselves are dying in the labour camps. Despite being largely innocent, they have given up hope of returning to a normal life but, not being threatened with death, they have also lost their fear of authority. Their superiors, meanwhile, make promises to Stalin about the work schedule, knowing that failure will probably result in execution at Stalin's capricious hands. Thus the prisoners, although not free, are able to hold the lives of their captors to ransome. Solzhenitsyn's vision of these damned souls playing hopeless games with what life they have left equated to Dante's first circle of hell, in which those who have not sinned but also not accepted God are forced to spend eternity.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solzhenitsyn at his very best 25 May 2003
Format:Hardcover
The book according to me is a masterpiece by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.The way he has portrayed the characters and their backgrounds is engrossing. There is nothing the reader doesn't know about the characters, their lives, attitudes and thinking. It is a must read for all those who want an insight into the conditions in Russia during the post-world war II era. The way people were arreted the reasons behind the arrests.
**If interested in Russia another good book is "We, The Living" by Ayn Rand
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A horrifying look at life under Stalin 7 Mar 2008
By Rebeki
Format:Paperback
After enjoying 'One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich' and 'Cancer Ward', I decided to try The First Circle. I was a little daunted on seeing the list of featured characters at the beginning of the book (which is very helpful, by the way!), but I loved the fact that the story is told from the point of view of several characters - prisoners and their jailers, the privileged and the alleged enemies of society.

By describing three days in the life of a special prison, Solzhenitsyn presents a microcosm of life in Stalin's Soviet Union. Clearly, the paranoia, the dishonesty and the degrading treatment of those who may simply have happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time make for bleak reading, yet there are many heartening and genuinely amusing moments. As with 'One Day In The Life...', this is a tale of the triumph of the human soul over hopelessness and inhumanity. A brilliant book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Solzhenitsyn as usual excels himself with his words and well deserved the Nobel Prize of 1970 which he received for it. By focussing his attention on a small group of people in an internment camp he is able to express the range of feelings which were provoked by the iron rule of Stalin. At some times able to live in blissful ignorance of all the facts which affect democratic life, yet at others being trown in at the deep end and having to endure one of the hardest prisoner regimes in the world to date. The short time it takes to move between the two allows us to see the fear that these people lived in. In smaller parts it also gives a russian civilians view of what they thought was going on inside Stalin's head when he ruined the lives of millions. For anyone who enjoys Russian literature at its best this is one of the greats.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful ,, desperate book. 25 Feb 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I first read this book 30 years ago. On finishing it this time I felt the same regret as then.
The theme is so bleak that it could be unbearable. It is kept from being so by three things. The first is the real possibility of good overcoming evil. The second is the ability of love to reanimate even the most hopeless situations. The third is the potential strength of the human spirit in such circumstances
Although its setting is most unusual, the characters are easily recognisable. They might have become stereotypes. Happily they are all too human for that.
This is a wonderful, if desperate, book.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent !
Published 1 month ago by andrew howes
5.0 out of 5 stars First Circle
It's a good book, the writing is brilliant. I read it many years ago and wanted to read it again.
Published 3 months ago by mammia3
5.0 out of 5 stars Real gritty yet amusing lives of prisoners in post war Russia
Excellent read - now if you haven't already read it get Cancer Ward and A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Sally Place
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely readable book, but a warning too
Along with the diary of Anne Frank and George Orwell, Solzhenitsyn is one of the key authors who remind us what a precious thing Human Rights are. Read more
Published 13 months ago by G. PERCY
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb book
Excellent book, strong characters, vivid description of the state security and penal system in Stalin's post war Soviet Union. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Leslie Tait
5.0 out of 5 stars THE FIRST CIRCLE - HIGHEST POSSIBLE QUALITY OF LITERATURE
I have read this book about 3 times in my life. I have just discovered that there is a fuller version (96 chapters), as Solzhenitsyn wrote an 87 chapter version for publishing in... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mrs. J. M. Faulding
4.0 out of 5 stars The first circle of hell - almost paradise
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn contrived a day for Ivan Denisovich that served to inform readers of the principal aspects of life in a Stalinist Special... Read more
Published on 13 Mar 2012 by Lost John
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel of the Twentieth Century
Each time I re-read The First Circle, a fresh theme is revealed. Originally I was captivated by the prisoners' stories, and later by the unhappy guards. Read more
Published on 27 Oct 2009 by Ian Roger
5.0 out of 5 stars The Prisoner's Dilemma
Like Solzhenitsyn's first literary work, the novella "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", his first full-length novel "The First Circle" is an autobiographical work based upon... Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2009 by J C E Hitchcock
5.0 out of 5 stars Master of Literature on the Stalinist Era
What can I say about this book other then it is brilliant. You are able to get under the skinof each character, to feel and understand their emotions, tribulations and hopes and... Read more
Published on 23 Oct 2003
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