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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The First Circle" is the True Masterpiece, 17 Oct 2009
By 
Peter Smallhill (Pasadena, California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In the First Circle: The Restored Text (Paperback)
This publisher's marketing machine (as in an Oct., 2009 Wall Street Journal article by the author of the book's forward) claims "In the First Circle" is now "finally available in the West". Not exactly. The same text as "In the First Circle" was published in France in 2007 as "Le Premier Cercle."

More importantly, the publishers claim that the previous English version of "The First Circle" was "bowdlerized", not "authentic" and by implication, polluted by Solzhenitsyn's revisions when he attempted to get the book published in the Soviet Union. This is very misleading.

Solzhenitsyn prepared two versions of this novel while writing in Russia in the 1960s. The version now called "In the First Circle", just published in English, was 9 short chapters longer and had a different opening plot line from "The First Circle", which he edited to 87 chapters and unsuccessfully attempted to publish in the Soviet Union.

In that editing, Solzhenitsyn, genius that he was, crafted a far more powerful opening. That's the major difference between the two versions of the novel.

"In the First Circle" (the newly published version) has a young Soviet diplomat, Innokenty Volodin, call the US Embassy in Moscow to warn about a Soviet spy operation in New York related to nuclear military secrets. As such, Innokenty is a 1 in 100 million superman hero (or traitorous villain) who cannot represent ordinary people that lack the opportunity or the courage for such an act.

In "The First Circle" (already available in English), the same Innokenty also makes a covert call, but to a Russian scientist who as a medical doctor had earlier treated Innokenty's mother, to warn him against sending some promised scientific samples to colleagues in France, because the act would be considered traitorous and get the scientist arrested. Even that simple warning call was enough to cause the hunting and arrest of Innokenty himself.

With this simple opening story, Solzhenitsyn shows how an ordinary man who acts out of basic humanity gets entrapped by the vicious Soviet political environment. This gets us, readers, deeply engaged because we can identify with Innokenty's feelings and his action. And because we sympathize with an ordinary person who becomes entangled through such a minor act, it's far more powerful than the extreme scenario that opens "In the First Circle".

Therefore, "The First Circle" is the true masterpiece version of this novel.

This is a story about "conditions where only courage, strength of character, and loyalty to friends made a man and could decide the fate of a comrade." ("The First Circle", Ch. 61.)

Copies of the great English translation by Michael Guybon are available inexpensively through used book websites.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Grim Insight Into the Stalin State, 21 Jan 2010
By 
P. Ronayne "Pablo" (Liverpool UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the First Circle: The Restored Text (Paperback)
This long, grim book takes us into the heart of the Stalin state with all of its de-humanising horrors.It centres on one of the 'special' prisons where scientists and intellectuals who are enemies of the regime work for the Soviet state, supporting its various projects which range from the production of nuclear weapons to espionage equipment.There is a simple but effective mantra utilised by the authorities-work to the best of your abilty for us or be sent to a freezing labour camp in Siberia and certain death.

We see the best and the worst of both the inmates and their captors as Solzhenitsyn builds the tension inside and outside the prison walls. Dozens of characters come and go in the best Russian literary tradition and we are even given a portrait of an ailing Stalin, who virtually a prisoner himself from imagined and real assassins still manages to exert his demonic, criminal personality over petrified subordinates.

At times there is a surreal, odd feeling to the whole book as readers we pinch ourselves to believe that these horrors actually took place in a modern 20th Century society yet the author was speaking from the heart. As a former 'Zek'(prisoner) himself Solshenitsyn smashes us fully in the face with his tragic depiction of a visit by prisoner's wives and the arrest of a suspect and his degrading treatment at the hands of the secret-police.I found myself hoping for some light at the end of a long bleak tunnel but somehow knowing there would be none. This is brilliant, masterful writing in the finest Russian realist tradition, perhaps the author's finest work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of story telling, 21 Mar 2014
This review is from: In the First Circle: The Restored Text (Paperback)
I guess I've read this book half a dozen times over the last 30 years. I know I'll still read it again and again. The depth of characterisation blended with an examination of a dreadful dictator and a loyal proletariat form an experience for the reader that astounds. Simultaneously, this book is an education and an engrossing page turner. Try Cancer Ward, too. Another superb Solzhenitsyn eye opener.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 5 Star rating, 14 May 2013
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This review is from: In the First Circle: The Restored Text (Paperback)
I bought this as a present and the person I bought it for loved it! Hence the five star rating! :)
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5.0 out of 5 stars in the first circle, 25 April 2012
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This review is from: In the First Circle: The Restored Text (Paperback)
i read this book two years ago and will probaly read my purchsae during the next two years i enjoyed it then
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars in the first circle, 30 Nov 2010
By 
William Campbell (glasgow,scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the First Circle: The Restored Text (Paperback)
my first book by this author,it is all I expected it to be,fantastic insight into Russian penal system,life under stalin regime,extremely engaging book,but I am a devotee of Russian literature.This book is a must buy
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In the First Circle: The Restored Text
In the First Circle: The Restored Text by Aleksandr Isaev Solzhenitsyn (Paperback - 13 Oct 2009)
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