Get to Know: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

For the Get to Know Series, we’ve gathered together our collection of an author’s books and information about them, their work, and background. Combined with other materials such as reviews, interviews, discussions, and more, we hope it will become a resource to find out more about their life and works, and place their books in context.

Ahead of the anniversary of his birth on 11 December, we get to know Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), who is widely acknowledged as one of the most important figures—and perhaps the most important writer—of the last century. His story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) made him famous, and The Gulag Archipelago, published to worldwide acclaim in 1973, further unmasked communism and played a critical role in its eventual defeat. Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in 1970 and was exiled to the West in 1974. He ultimately published dozens of plays, poems, novels, and works of history, nonfiction, and memoir, including Cancer WardIn the First CircleThe Oak and the Calf, and Between Two Millstones, Book 1: Sketches of Exile, 1974–1978 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2018).

The Red Wheel is Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus about the Russian Revolution. Solzhenitsyn tells this story in the form of a meticulously researched historical novel, supplemented by newspaper headlines of the day, fragments of street action, cinematic screenplay, and historical overview. The first two nodes—August 1914 and November 1916—focus on Russia’s crises and recovery, on revolutionary terrorism and its suppression, on the missed opportunity of Pyotr Stolypin’s reforms, and how the surge of patriotism in August 1914 soured as Russia bled in World War I.

March 1917—the third node—tells the story of the Russian Revolution itself, during which not only does the Imperial government melt in the face of the mob, but the leaders of the opposition prove utterly incapable of controlling the course of events.

March 1917: The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 1

Translated by Marian Schwartz
University of Notre Dame Press (2017)

The action of Book 1 (of four) of March 1917 is set during March 8–12 and tells the stories of more than fifty characters during the days when the Russian Empire begins to crumble.

March 1917: The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 2

Translated by Marian Schwartz
University of Notre Dame Press (2019)

Book 2, covers three days (March 13–15, 1917) of the Russian Revolution’s turbulent second week when the nation unravelled, leading to the Bolshevik takeover eight months later.

March 1917: Node III, Book 3

Translated by Marian Schwartz
University of Notre Dame Press (2007)

The action of Book 3 is set during March 16–22, 1917, when the forces of revolutionary disintegration spread out from Petrograd all the way to the front lines of World War I, presaging Russia’s collapse.

Between Two Millstones, Book 1

Translated by Daniel J. Mahoney
University of Notre Dame Press

The two-volume memoir, Between Two Millstones, concludes Nobel Prize–winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s literary memoirs of his years in the West after his forced exile from the USSR following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago.

Book 1 begins on February 13, 1974, when Solzhenitsyn found himself forcibly expelled to Frankfurt, West Germany, as a result of the publication in the West of The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn moved to Zurich, Switzerland, for a time and was considered the most famous man in the world, hounded by journalists and reporters. During this period, he found himself untethered and unable to work while he tried to acclimate to his new surroundings.

Between Two Millstones, Book 2

Translated by Clare Kitson and Melanie Moore
University of Notre Dame Press

Book 2 picks up the story of Solzhenitsyn’s remarkable life after the raucous publicity over his 1978 Harvard Address has died down. The author parries attacks from the Soviet state (and its many fellow-travellers in the Western press) as well as from recent émigrés who, according to Solzhenitsyn, defame Russian culture, history, and religion. The book concludes in 1994, as Solzhenitsyn bids farewell to the West in a valedictory series of speeches and meetings with world leaders, including John Paul II, and prepares at last to return home with his beloved wife Natalia, full of misgivings about what use he can be in the first chaotic years of post-Communist Russia, but never wavering in his conviction that, in the long run, his books would speak, influence, and convince.

Books about Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn and American Culture

Edited by David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson
University of Notre Dame Press

This anthology reconsiders Solzhenitsyn’s work from a variety of perspectives—his faith, his politics, and the influences and context of his literature—to provide a prophetic vision for our current national confusion over universal ideals. These essays, from the foremost scholars and thinkers of comparative studies, will interest readers familiar with the work of Nobel Prize–winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and are a great starting point for those eager for an introduction to the great Russian’s work.


The Historical-Spiritual Destinies of Russia and the West

Lee Congdon
Cornell University Press

In this examination of Solzhenitsyn and his work, Lee Congdon explores the consequences of the atheistic socialism that drove the Russian revolutionary movement. Beginning with a description of the post-revolutionary Russia into which Solzhenitsyn was born, Congdon addresses the Bolshevik victory in the civil war, the origins of the concentration camp system, the Bolsheviks’ war on Christianity and the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn’s arrest near the war’s end, his time in the labor camps, his struggle with cancer, his exile and increasing alienation from the Western way of life, and his return home. He concludes with a reminder of Solzhenitsyn’s warning to the West—that it was on a path parallel to that which Russia had followed into the abyss.