Nearly sixteen years after its publication in Russian and more than a decade after it appeared in a French translation, the second “knot” of The Red Wheel, Solzhenitsyn’s multivolume epic on the events leading up to the revolutionary cataclysm of 1917, has at last appeared in English. Though the work as a whole remains unknown in this country, a consensus has developed, in sharp contrast to its enthusiastic critical reception in France, that The Red Wheel, Solzhenitsyn’s great literary and intellectual endeavor of the last thirty years, is a failure, and a failure of monumental proportions.

Many critics are thus predisposed to pronounce it dead on arrival, following the lead of Solzhenitsyn’s most recent biographer, D. M. Thomas, and the even more authoritative Michael Scammell, whose ostensibly balanced 1984 biography played a critical role in undermining Solzhenitsyn’s reputation in...


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