This is the second part of Solzhenitsyn's huge chronicle of the Russian Revolution. It follows 'August 1914', and it is followed by a day by day account of the events of March 1917 (the 'February Revolution'). At the time of writing (December 2001), 'March 1917' is available in French, but not in English. There are at least two further volumes ('April 1917') in Russian, not yet published in French. On the basis of what I have read so far ('August 1914' in English; 'November 1916' and the first three volumes of 'March 1917' in French), I would say quite simply that this is the major literary achievement of the twentieth century. Nothing else comes close. Its reception among the British literati has, of course, been disgraceful. They have expressed nothing but indifference or contempt. Their chief complaint is that this is not 'art', and it is true that in this and the succeeding volumes Solzhenitsyn's immense curiosity about the real historical figures in the drama has swept his fictional characters into relative insignificance. But he is dealing with one of the key defining moments of the century and his achievement is to do for it what any real artist would long to do - he has taken all that passion, faith, despair, and has given it a coherent, comprehensible and dignified form. In the great Russian debate over formalism, Solzhenitsyn would undoubtedly appear (together with the Socialist Realists) as an anti-formalist. But he remains a poet and artist and, consequently, in a manner of speaking, a 'formalist', born and bred. The critics have gone on to say that he is just indulging in a reactionary, anti-Bolshevik, Tsarist, Great Russian nationalist, obscurantist Orthodox, what-have-you tirade.Read more ›
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I read "August 1914" and "November 1916" in a Burmese prison and cannot begin to describe what a blessing Solzhenitsyn and his work are for humanity. He writes like no other, making real what others cannot cover - a window on Russia. He is the greatest writer of the past 100 years, and he is an awesome man. There is a depth and delicacy in two, brief, Orthodox scenes which are profoundly moving, and they just two tiny parts of the work. There is a terror in mankind but glory in man.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The more things change, the more they stay the same6 Jan. 2000
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In November 1916, Solzhenitsyn continues the story she started in August 1914 - the grand saga of conflicting forces that led to the revolution of 1917. At an even 1000 pages, the book would seem overlong except that despite its length it can barely contain the numerous characters, movements, 'plots', conspiracies, and ideas that form the mosaic the author presents of Russia on the eve of revolt. There are a number of things that strike the reader in reading this book. One is the general description of conditions in Moscow and St. Petersburg at the time: extreme inflation, unavailability of goods, long lines waiting in bad weather for whatever is available in stores, conspicuous displays of wealth by some in the face of extreme poverty by most, capricious strikes and labor shutdowns, lack of any agreement on action among the leaders of the government and a general sense that the government has betrayed the people. Having just read David Remnick's excellent book Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia, it seems that not much has really changed there since the early decades of the century. Despite the 'success' of the Soviet Union in WWII, the space race and the huge effort at industrialization, Russia seems to be prey once again to the same despair and chaos that bred the last revolution. This book works as both a historical summary of conditions at the time and as an engrossing human story of various people (soldiers, revolutionaries, peasants, writers, and government officials) caught up in those conditions. The human meaning, and cost, is never lost in the 'big picture' but is used to help clarify it. Like most Russian literature, this book is filled with talk, excellent conversation and argument, emotional displays of temper and grief, and enough self doubt and inconsistency to make 100 versions of Hamlet. Intermingled with the story also are long sections of historical expositon, often quotes from actual speeches, dispatches, articles and proclaimations. Less interesting than the story of his main characters, these sections nevertheless add a great deal of depth to our understanding of the 'present' circumstances presented in the book. One of the best aspects of the book for me was the portait of Lenin in Switzerland - fussy, neurotic, and constantly lecturing everyone else about his brand of socialism while living off his mother's (and other's) charity. The subplot relating Germany's effort to get Lenin to foment a revolution in Russia so that eastern front could be retired, is fascinating. Anyone who enjoys Russian literature will find much to appreciate in November 1916. It is in the grand tradition of great Russian fiction that touches the heart while stimulating the mind. There is never any doubt about Solzhenitsyn's values and beliefs, but he can still create a three dimensional world where even what he hates glows with real life.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Great story slowed down by superfluous research papers11 July 2004
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I was really excited to see this book had finally been translated into English, having just read the old (and terrible) Michael Glenny hack job translation of 'August 1914.' It was a bit slow to pick up, but this is my favourite writer, so I knew that once it got going, it would be as impossible to put down as all of his other books. Unfortunately that was not the case. I abandoned it in frustration midway through the first of the six miniature research papers, on the history of the Kadet movement, and didn't return to it and start all over again till three and a half years later. This time I didn't give up at any point, though it wasn't easy getting through most of the small-print material in the non-fiction chapters. I really believe that he did want to educate his fellow Russians on a period in their history which isn't well-taught or well-understood instead of showing off the mammoth research he did on this book, but surely there could have been a way to convey that same information without interrupting the narrative a total of six times to bring the reader this tedious material, a mixture of non-fiction narrative and long quotes from the historical figures being discussed. Maybe, like in some of his other books I've read, have page references in the back to what was being talked about there, have footnotes, or a general introduction or afterword on the history behind the story. I know this is his life's work, the second of the four books that were the obsession of his writing life (thankfully he's lived long enough to finish them), but the information would have been gotten across just as well had these six chapters been cut out or had the information presented in the course of the fictional story, the way a good historical fiction writer presents historical events and figures important to the story. It was also hard to keep track of who was who, with all of these names, like Markov, Uncle Khvostov, Nephew Khvostov, Maklakov, Rodzyanko, Protopopov, Milyukov, Krivoshein, St?rmer, and Shipov, as well as who had been dismissed by the Tsar, whom Rasputin and the Tsarina were trying to get rid of, who was a Centrist, Rightist, Kadet, Leftist, ultra-Leftist, ultra-Rightist, a Duma member, or one of the Tsar's ministers. I love Russian history, but this was way too much information to process. The only non-fiction chapters I felt belonged there were the final two, the Duma transcripts, which read more like part of a story than a detached research paper. The scope of this book is far wider than 'August 1914,' and there are far more characters to keep track of. A number of characters from that book also appear here, in varying degrees of importance. The most important recurring character is Colonel Georgiy Vorontyntsev; here we also get to meet his wife Alina, his baby sister Vera, and their childhood nanny. Since the time during which this book takes place, late October to mid November of 1916, was primarily a time of stalemate, the majority of the action takes place on the homefront. The chapters that do involve the characters in the military don't include any battles. It's hard to not see why revolution occurred when it did--everything on the homefront is going to the dogs, what with fixed grain prices for the peasants, rising prices for the people in the cities, anti-German pogroms, men between the ages of 38 and 41 being called into the military, along with boys who were born in 1898, the youngest possible class who can serve, Russia bankrupt, the strange behaviour of the Tsar, the replacement of the popular but ineffective Supreme Commander of the army, Nikolasha, with his great-nephew the Tsar himself, and the world shutting off its banking with Russia. Everyone was humiliated and angry, from the Tsarists to the revolutionaries living in exile abroad. The Tsar was a genuinely nice fellow, but kept making all of the wrong moves and making revolution even more inevitable. Some people don't like this book because it has so many different characters, but that's the point--it's showing how these events affected all of these different classes of people, at all levels of society, how each of them reacted to it. It's harder to summarise, and very exhausting to read (I read it in two weeks, surprising given the sheer length), but the ending is really beautiful, a classic final thought. It was worth it just to read the end.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A hard read with some compensations28 Sept. 2000
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It took me a long time to get through "November 1916," even considering its 1000 page length. Solzhenitsyn's novel is a hard book to read because of its fits and starts and frequent changes of tone and plot line. Nonetheless, it has its compensations. Solzhenitsyn does a fine job in showing the reader the uncertainty of a moment just before the world changed dramatically. Some characters see what will be coming hazily, some not at all, none with the clarity that historical hindsight allows. Their prejudices, limited perspectives, selfishness, and, in some cases, dedication to duty lead each character to an entirely personal view of the situation and what should be done to right it. Such a presentation is a useful corrective to the approach to history that views people of past times as dolts for not understanding what seems so inevitable now. After reading Solzhenitsyn's novel, it becomes far easier to empathize not only with the Russians who allowed a tragic revolution to occur, but with people everywhere and at all times who did not see disasters in the making. As dramatic fiction, Solzhenitsyn's book is much less successful. We are never able to get into the flow of a narrative. His frequent interpolations of long passages providing historical background chop up what passes for the story. The author indicates that readers can skip these sections, but unless one was already familiar with pre-Revolutionary Russia's politics and leading government figures, it would be impossible to understand the novel without reading these passages. Besides, while they torpedo the narrative, they are integral to the book's strengths. The book works best as fiction in the sections on Lenin's exile in Switzerland and in some of the chapters on a Russian colonel, Vorotyntsev. Vorotyntsev starts with a clear vision that the war must be ended at once at all costs, and tries to take action to achieve that goal, but he gradually becomes confused by the myriad views of those he encounters. Unfortunately, the parts of the book dealing with Vorotyntsev's marriage and affair with a St. Petersberg intellectual are dreary and unconvincing. Clearly these sections are meant to demonstrate how the personal always distracts us from other duties, but Solzhenitsyn's attempts to show human drama in this love triangle underline his failure to provide real depth in his characters. The book is worth reading if one has an interest in this period of history. Solzhenitsyn does a splendid job of setting the stage and showing us interesting and important corners of Russia just before the Revolution arrived. Solzhenitsyn uses the tools of fiction to achieve effects that would be difficult for a pure historian, yet his book is probably only of interest to those who would be inclined to read a historical account. I would not recommend it for general readers.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Hunting for history with a big net9 Dec. 2000
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In this work, and its preceding volume, _August 1914_, Solzhenitsyn attempts to recapture for readers, especially for his countrymen, the events leading up to the Revolution. To do this, he uses evidence in the form of letters and debates, and shows real and fictional characters trying to live and work in a time of crisis and hysteria. His own creations, as others reviewers have mentioned, are somewhat clumsily handled (but not always so, and not to the detriment of the novel), but his imaginative penetration of Lenin and other historical figures shows Solzhenitsyn capable of great, and sustained, power. This goes against the views of some who consider him rather old-fashioned and out of touch, not quite the writer he once was thought to be. In this book, as in volume one, Solzhenitsyn accomplishes some very important tasks: he recovers from the shadows much history that to many Western readers is inaccessible, or unfamiliar, and renders it in lively prose; he provides the historical characters with convincing personalities that throws over our stereotyped notions of them; and he writes of past events, which we may know the outcomes of, with suspense. None of these are small feats. But it is History, the great sweep of events that takes up everyone and everything in its embrace, that emerges as the most skillfully drawn 'character' in his portrait of Russia on the eve of its transformation. The debates crackle with excitement and contained emotions, and the personal letters add those grace notes of melancholy and complete bewilderment which allow small insights into the real historical personages. This projected trilogy - the next volume can't come out soon enough - is entertaining, humourous and sharp, and strongly written. It offers a view into a disappearing world which can't be ignored or disregarded simply because of changing tastes in literature. It is a long read, yes. Who can object to that, when the read is a good one as well?
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Great art in the service of the recovery of historical truth24 April 1999
The Sanity Inspector
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Solzhenitsyn has been part of my intellectual and spiritual furniture since high school, and so I am very glad that _November 1916_ has finally appeared in English. In a 1000 page novel where not much happens, he reproduces a dying age in almost frightening detail, and amazing breadth. Here is Mother Russia, lurching towards disaster. The few competent people grapple desperately with the wasting war, the feckless monarch, the deadwood bureaucracy and top brass, and the cant-besotted activists in the Duma, with their proclamations, declarations, and ultimatums. Around the margins of the looming catastrophe slink the agitators and terrorists and revolutionaries, chillingly pitiless and committed to their destructive ideologies. Forebodings of the impending Communist disaster abound, of course; and Solzhenitsyn puts his own artillery service in the second world war to use in illustrating the battlefields in the first. And the people are still normal people (except for the Bolshevik automatons), loving, longing, bursting forth with their passions, or silently enduring the fatigues of wartime. Solzhenitsyn also reveals himself as a fine aphorist, as well as having an acute ear for simile ("as amazed as a ram staring at a new gate") The _New York Times Book Review_ gave him an unconscionable insult in their review of this book by misspelling the hero's name throughout. It's "Vorotyntsev", not "Vorotynsky". The Northeastern literary establishment never forgave Solzhenitsyn for adhering to the Russian Orthodox faith in the '70s, and such a piece of sloppy editing seems to me to be a juvenile dig at him. Anyway, this book is not for those whom television has destroyed their attention span. But it is a rewarding--and sobering--journey for those who can go the distance.