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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The First Circle" is the True Masterpiece, 17 Oct. 2009
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 May 2010 17:49:12 BDT
It is a very important point you make here about versions.

Posted on 21 Jun 2012 15:39:13 BDT
Che Guevara says:
Not really. Innokenty is no 'ordinary man' in either version, actually. And the original, nuclear secrets plot was not an "extreme scenario" - that is what actually happened. Innokenty's dialogue in the telephone conversation is word-for-word based on reality, as Solzhenitsyn and the others actually did work to uncover who made the call when they were in the Marfino sharashka - it's all fact-based, rather than the weak and contrived revised/censored version. The full, 96-chapter version is of crucial importance, not least because of its much fuller, uncensored portrayal of Stalin. Solzhenitsyn was furious when the reduced version was smuggled out and published without his approval.
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