SOLZHENITSYN, Alexander. The Oak and the Calf. Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union. Translated from the Russian by Harry Willetts. London, Collins and Harvill Press, 1980.
8vo. Original cloth with illustrated dust-wrappers (not price-clipped); pp. vii, 568;apart from one short margina tear to wrappers, near-fine.
First UK edition. 'Master novelist and historian (and ex-artillery officer) Solzhenitsyn reveals his powers at their liveliest in this round-by-round, personal narrative of his ten-year war to outwit Russia's rulers and their toadies, and get his work published in his own country. It all began in the early 1960. Solzhenitsyn, released from Gulag and from exile, a comparatively free man, had for years been writing in total secrecy, squirreling his work away in a half-dozen hiding places, teaching school and avoiding all literary contacts. Suddenly Khrushchev denounced Stalin, the skies lightened briefly, and the underground writer decided to surface. The result was the publication in Soviet Russia of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - a modified version of the original but, still, the first public hint of truth about the prison camps. It appeared in the literary magazine Novy Mir, whose editor was the complex, gifted and alcoholic Alexander Tvardovsky. And that was that. Khrushchev fell; the climate changed again; Novy Mir turned down The First Circle and Cancer Ward; and the KGB raided the writer's apartment and confiscated his archive. Incredibly, that last act freed Solzhenitsyn for action. Realizing soon that he was unlikely to be rearrested, he moved into the open. Nothing he might say and almost nothing he might do could damn him more completely than the material already in the KGB's hands. He took to making speeches, provoking arguments, circulating his work through illicit channels and sending it to the West. Everything he had learned in his years in Gulag came in handy, and he reports with superb irony and ebullience the tricks he played on the KGB and their often grim, sometimes grotesque counter-moves. The substance of The Oak and the Calf is factual. But the writer is one of the great novelists of our time, and the people we meet in these pages (notably the tragic Tvardovsky) are given us with the same energy and realism as the unforgettable men and women of The First Circle. And the self-portrait of the author - in his loneliness, his courage, his skill in defense and attack, his savage wit - truly reveals to us a hero of our time. This English-language editin contains material added after the publication of the Russian text' (blurb on wrappers of the US edition).