The strongest work in this collection focus on life under communism. The stories on World War II appear to include personal experiences, which I found interesting but I realize such stories aren’t for everyone. Solzhenitsyn struggles in the stories (or parts of stories) set in the post-Soviet age—it’s clear he is unhappy about many things but his focus doesn’t consistently have the same bite. Which isn’t to say they aren’t good stories. It seems he was still working on how to evaluate and express his feelings on the changes in Russia, those for the good as well as for the bad. While there are no consistent themes across all the stories the feeling that a bad decision…such as missing an offered chance…lies at the heart of many unhappy or unfulfilled situations whether it be with individuals, groups, or the country. Literature, and the use/abuse of it by the Soviet system, comes in for its fair share of exposure but not to the same extent as the look at pivotal moments in Russian history.
I recall seeing some announcements of this book saying this collection of stories would be a good introduction to Solzhenitsyn. If you’re looking to avoid his longer works for such an introduction, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" would be a much better choice (although I want to put in a word for the longer works, too). I have no hesitation in recommending the first four stories of this collection to the general reader looking for a sample of Solzhenitsyn general style. The remaining stories gave me various levels of enjoyment but I realize not everyone has the same interest in the writer as I do. Solzhenitsyn has some characters in the 1920s express hope for the change in the direction the country was taking, hopes we know, without having to read further, will be dashed. Fewer characters in stories set in the 1990s express similar hopes as a result of recent changes. Their path still unfolds, but Solzhenitsyn didn't seem to think the results will be much different.
The stories employing a structure Solzhenitsyn called binary tales—two parts related by something tangible, a continuation of the same story but set years later, or simply two unrelated stories with a similar theme—can be uneven but when they click, such as the opening “Apricot Jam”, this approach adds to the story’s impact.
This book was written in the 1990s but only published in English in 2011. The author referred to these as "binary" short stories, with each story divided in two related parts. The stories are set during the war years and in the post-Soviet period. They are oddly old-fashioned.
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