2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Great Potential but Ultimately Lacking,
This review is from: Apricot Jam and Other Stories (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)I've always had a bit of an ambivalent approach to Solzhenitsyn; to be honest for me, personally, he's never lived up to the `hype' surrounding him. He's one of those writers I've always felt I should like and appreciate, and I've always tried my best to do just that, but to be honest he most of the time just leaves me cold.
At times I try to excuse this in the way he's translated- maybe he loses something in the cultural transfer- but the same can't be said of Tolstoy or Chekhov so, for me, all I can put it down to is that he just doesn't push my, personal, buttons.
Now I know there are die-hard Solzhenitsyn fans out there, and if any are reading this then I suggest you look away now before apoplexy overcomes you. But this collection of stories, unfortunately just reinforces my awkward relationship with Solzhenitsyn. On one level they are a fascinating insight into twentieth century Russia/the Soviet Union: from the turmoils of Revolution, civil war and its aftermath onwards through Stalinism and the Second World War through, ultimately, to the communist regime end days under Gorbachev and the subsequent seed bed of the new Russian Capitalism of the 90s.
Now this is an absolutely fascinating premise for a collection of short stories- there is absolutely so much to be told in this story, so much interesting material to mine, but for all the interesting societal vignettes presented, there is scant in the way of truly, affecting stories in this collection, and that is the truly huge, unforgivable failing of this collection.
This isn't helped by the fact that a couple of these tracts are more short novellas than short stories in length, and to be honest fail to hold one's interest long enough to justify their length and, in the end, overstay their welcome. The prime example is Adlig Schwenkitten- a story that starts fascinatingly enough as a tale about Red Army artillery units pushing forward at the very forefront of the front line against the Germans in 1944-45 as they enter East Prussia and Germany proper- until it's host of characters become merely confusing, and you end up sighing with frustrated boredom at yet another description of a unit making a tactical position change and, by the time the German attack finally begins, this reader for one had completely lost interest.
Solzhenitsyn was undoubtedly a major figure of 20th century literature; I've always had the niggling suspicion that was based much more on his status as a famous dissident, rather than the quality of his story-telling though. Unfortunately this collection of stories- which for me are too short on a clear technique, and critically, too lacking in any heart or even a dark humour- only reinforces that niggle of mine.