Between Two Millstones, Book 1
Sketches of Exile, 1974–1978
Hardcover | 9780268105013 | October 2018
eBook (PDF) | 9780268105037 | October 2018
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268105044 | October 2018
Russian Nobel prize–winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important figures—and perhaps the most important writer—of the last century. To celebrate the centenary of his birth, the first English translation of his memoir of the West, Between Two Millstones, Book 1, is being published. Fast-paced, absorbing, and as compelling as the earlier installments of his memoir The Oak and the Calf (1975), Between Two Millstones begins on February 12, 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 contains vivid descriptions of Solzhenitsyn's journeys to various European countries and North American locales, where he and his wife Natalia (“Alya”) searched for a location to settle their young family. There are fascinating descriptions of one-on-one meetings with prominent individuals, detailed accounts of public speeches such as the 1978 Harvard University commencement, comments on his television appearances, accounts of his struggles with unscrupulous publishers and agents who mishandled the Western editions of his books, and the KGB disinformation efforts to besmirch his name. There are also passages on Solzhenitsyn's family and their property in Cavendish, Vermont, whose forested hillsides and harsh winters evoked his Russian homeland, and where he could finally work undisturbed on his ten-volume history of the Russian Revolution, The Red Wheel. Stories include the efforts made to assure a proper education for the writer's three sons, their desire to return one day to their home in Russia, and descriptions of his extraordinary wife, editor, literary advisor, and director of the Russian Social Fund, Alya, who successfully arranged, at great peril to herself and to her family, to smuggle Solzhenitsyn's invaluable archive out of the Soviet Union.
Between Two Millstones is a literary event of the first magnitude. The book dramatically reflects the pain of Solzhenitsyn's separation from his Russian homeland and the chasm of miscomprehension between him and Western society.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important figures—and perhaps the most important writer—of the last century. A Soviet political prisoner from 1945 to 1953, he set himself firmly against the anti-human Soviet system, and all anti-human ideologies, from that time forward. 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 Ward, In the First Circle, The Oak and the Calf, and Between Two Millstones, Book 1: Sketches of Exile, 1974–1978 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2018).
Peter Constantine is a literary translator and editor, and the director of the Literary Translation Program at the University of Connecticut.
Daniel J. Mahoney is professor of political science at Assumption College.
"Between Two Millstones is the name of the autobiography that picks up where The Oak and the Calf left off. . . . Published in Russian periodicals in the late 1990s and now translated into English, the book charts a striking transformation in how Western readers saw Solzhenitsyn, and how he, in turn, saw himself." ~National Review
“Solzhenitsyn remained a Russian patriot. His literary mission was the restoration of his homeland to a condition of liberty and flourishing that Leninist-Stalinism destroyed. This is the ultimate truth of the recently released English edition of Book 1 of Between Two Millstones, which is Solzhenitsyn’s account of his forced exile in the West in 1974.” ~Law & Liberty
"These 'sketches of life in exile' were written during the events described and are informed with the same energy and vivid powers of description that characterized Solzhenitsyn's acclaimed memoir The Oak and the Calf. Between Two Millstones has appeared in Russian, French, German, Italian, and Romanian, but not in the country where Solzhenitsyn spent eighteen years of his western exile. It is one of the great memoirs of our time and a distinguished work of art in its own right." ~Daniel J. Mahoney, Assumption College
"Perhaps that is why Between Two Millstones, and other treasures, will be gifted to the world not by the biblio-industrial complex of Manhattan but by a soulful press of the great American inland." ~Spectator USA
"As a former political prisoner fresh out of the USSR, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was consumed with the desire of making the West see the dangers of communism. But an increasing number of Western commentators found his views too harsh in this respect, as well as 'insufficiently liberal' in general. Controversies concerning Solzhenitsyn began erupting with ever greater frequency, reaching a crescendo of sorts after the Harvard speech. In Between Two Millstones, Solzhenitsyn revisits these polemical battles with gusto and in fascinating detail." ~Alexis Klimoff, emeritus, Vassar College
"It is distinguished mostly by his descriptions of the initial pain of exile, his bristling reactions to Western mores, and his search for a quiet place to finish his work and live out his life." ~The New Yorker
"He faulted the West not because it was different from communist society, but because it was not as different as its advocates believed it to be." ~First Things
"[T]his first volume of Solzhenitsyn’s memoirs (the second will cover 1978 to 1994) recounts the 1970 Nobel Prize winner’s efforts to create a life after being expelled from the Soviet Union following publication in France of The Gulag Archipelago. . . . Solzhenitsyn’s memoir will intrigue . . . with its glimpses into the everyday life of a onetime giant in the world of letters." ~Publishers Weekly
"Abruptly released by the KGB and sent to the West, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was like a man who emerged from a dark room into the blinding light of high noon. . . . Despite being misunderstood, Solzhenitsyn became a critic not only of the brutal system he escaped but of a Western society grown fat and complacent, 'moving ever farther from natural human experience.'" ~Shepherd Express
“Between Two Millstones picks up the story of Solzhenitsyn’s remarkable and courageous literary and personal life where The Oak and the Calf and Invisible Allies, his two earlier memoirs, left off. It is a tale of the first stirrings of freedom in the West mixed with the fear of further Soviet retribution, the unceasing demands of celebrity, frustration with the Western elite’s commercialism, secularism, and legalism, and the personal desire to be left alone to complete his most important literary project, The Red Wheel.” ~New York Journal of Books
“Constantine’s formidable translation of the first volume of Solzhenitsyn’s memoir is a birth-centennial tribute to the great Russian writer. . . . This memoir is a timely and propitious antidote to the current perplexing world situation, which is marked by the rise of neo-Nazism, international wars, criminal activities on the part of governments, and callous disregard for the law and constitutional traditions.” ~Choice
“. . . we must be grateful for these sketches and the insight into the times that they offer, as well as the all-too-rare and occasional glimpses of the lovable man behind the publicly impenetrable mask.” ~Chronicles
“[Solzhenitsyn] was a polymath, an able scientist, and mathematician who devoured literature in many languages. . . . For readers who seek to understand one of the pivotal geniuses of the 20th century, Between Two Millstones is a treasure.” ~Claremont Review of Books
"[Between Two Millstones, Book 1] is most effective, and affecting, as a record of the mental torment that Solzhenitsyn endured in an alien environment." ~The Wall Street Journal
"An engaging tale of Solzhenitsyn's initial exposure to Western ways." ~Rain Taxi
“Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn took to Vermont, and Vermonters took to him. I felt it a privilege to have met with him in his new Vermont setting, and I know that our state’s forested beauty reminded him of home. We are proud that he believed that his homeland, and the world, could learn from the local self-government that is embodied in Town Meeting Day in towns and hamlets across the Green Mountain State.” ~Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
"Like the man himself, the translated memoir of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is an indispensable part of history. Solzhenitsyn's words, now accessible to English readers for the first time, are a lasting testimony to his unbending moral courage, his persistence, and his persuasiveness—all of which helped bring down Communism.” ~Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense (1975–1977, 2001–2006)
“[Solzhenitsyn] is a writer with a necessarily solitary occupation, yet he is put upon by outside forces that feel to him as inexorable as Soviet oppression. . . . This will be enjoyed by serious readers of this author.” ~San Francisco Book Review
"For those wishing to know more about the literary genius and political giant who was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, this autobiographical account of his years of exile in the West is a wish come true. Up until now, we have only had Solzhenitsyn's account of his years as a dissident in the Soviet Union, prior to his expulsion from his homeland. As for the years from 1974 to 1994, we have had to content ourselves with mere scraps and fragments. Now, at long last, we are being served the feast for which we have hungered." ~Joseph Pearce, author of Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile
"Here we meet Solzhenitsyn the writer, a man searching for a quiet place to gather his thoughts, refine them, and put them on paper. . . . In this book above all others, perhaps, Solzhenitsyn shows how he subtly shifted the emphasis of Russian Orthodox Christianity toward a path of greater sobriety." ~Society
"On this centenary of his birth . . . we can see that Solzhenitsyn was dead-on about the soul-crushing Soviet system, from a moral and not just a political point of view, and to a degree right about the materialist mania and moral rot of the West." ~Times Literary Supplement
"Between Two Millstones describes the years when Solzhenitsyn, banished but unbowed, defied Western decadence as eloquently as he had Soviet brutality." ~Christopher Caldwell, The Weekly Standard
“Solzhenitsyn—widely regarded as one of the most important writers of the last century—won the 1970 Nobel Prize for literature, and his 1973 masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago, exposed the system of forced labor camps in the Soviet Union. Between Two Millstones is a two-volume work chronicling Solzhenitsyn’s 20 years of exile in the West—the pain of being separated from his homeland and the chasm of miscomprehension between him and Western society.” ~NDWorks
"Reading these memoirs, we too experience events as they were unfolding for the author. We sense the choices he might have made and later regretted not making. As in his novels, we put our fingers on the pulse of history." ~American Scholar
“Between Two Milestones is a testament not only to the courage and clear-sightedness of Solzhenitsyn but also to the evils of the Soviet Union and the pathologies that still plague the West. . . . Insightful, surprisingly humorous at places, and always focused on those things that make life work living—family, God, culture, and one’s own country—Between Two Milestones illuminates the struggles one faces when living in the West and what one can make of it in this free but empty civilization.” ~Voegelin View
"Solzhenitsyn's account of his early years of exile is informed by a refusal to be swept along by the swift-moving currents of modernity and an ever-increasing awareness of the West's loss of a moral compass. It should be high on the reading list of every thinking American." ~Lee Congdon, author of Solzhenitsyn: The Historical-Spiritual Destinies of Russia and the West