To lovers of literature, writers’ memoirs are almost always interesting to read for the insights they give into the authors’ minds and characters. Because of the intensely personal nature of The Oak and the Calf, and because of the extraordinary experiences which fate has packed into Solzhenitsyn’s life, his memoirs are of unusual interest. As a work of art, The Oak and the Calf is far superior to Konstantin Paustovsky’s Povest o zhizni (1946-1964; The Story of a Life, 1964-1974), another Soviet literary memoir generally available in the West, one that seems bland and of limited interest in comparison to Solzhenitsyn’s. Solzhenitsyn’s work is more readily comparable to Ilya Ehrenburg’s various volumes of reminiscences, for both give vivid portrayals of the Soviet Union’s cultural life. Nevertheless, Solzhenitsyn’s work is more focused, both in time and subject, and ultimately more revealing of Soviet realities.
The importance of The Oak and the Calf may be judged from the great critical attention accorded it when it came out. Leading newspapers and journals in the Western world devoted lengthy reviews to the work. While reviewers were sometimes disconcerted by Solzhenitsyn’s notion of himself as a “second government,” with the right to critique not only his own but all the rest of the governments in the world, they praised the brilliance of his memoir. The Oak and the Calf...
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