Early Works > Love the Revolution
Love the Revolution
The major part of this unfinished novel was composed in 1948 during Solzhenitsyn's stay in the Marfino sharashka (image, right). (The writer had to leave behind what he had written when he was shipped to Ekibastuz in 1950, but was able to retrieve this material when he returned from exile.) While the work has sometimes been referred to as a "prose sequel" to The Trail, it is in fact focused on the period preceding the wartime episodes included in the autobiographical poem. The story begins on a Sunday morning in June 1941, when the protagonist, Gleb Nerzhin (the first name here differing from the "Sergei" in the poem), arrives in Moscow in order to enroll in a prestigious institute for the study of history, philosophy, and literature (MIFLI). As was true in The Trail, the narrative is entirely autobiographical. And Love the Revolution discloses the same self-critical key familiar from the poem, with a heavy emphasis on Nerzhin's inflated opinion of himself and on the naïveté of his faith in the Marxist vision. Arriving in Moscow on the very day when Hitler launched his attack on the Soviet Union, Nerzhin not only feels ready to die for the ideals of the revolution but actually yearns for such a fate, and he is genuinely scandalized by individuals who have other priorities.
To his great frustration, Nerzhin had been classified as medically unfit for frontline duty, and when he is eventually called up, it is for service in a horse-drawn transport unit far from the fighting. Humiliated by this assignment, as well as by his inability to handle horses, and surrounded by middle-aged men who are almost totally indifferent to ideology, Nerzhin inevitably mellows a little, but nothing he experiences in this period is ultimately able to dampen his revolutionary enthusiasm. As Solzhenitsyn writes:
It is likely that this is a fairly accurate reflection of Solzhenitsyn's own state of mind, for The Gulag Archipelago makes clear that it would take the body blow of arrest and incarceration to effect a permanent shift in his opinions.
Solzhenitsyn's original intent was for Love the Revolution to be an account of his entire military career; but his attempt to resume the narrative after returning from exile failed, and the work remains fragmentary. Yet even in this form, this earliest of Solzhenitsyn's known prose works stands as an impressive literary achievement. Especially memorable is the ironic yet warm portrayal of Nerzhin as he single-mindedly pursues his dream of serving the Revolution, despite the chaos of wartime Russia and in the teeth of bureaucratic obstacles. There are vivid descriptions of train travel to destinations unknown and unknowable in view of the countrywide blackout of scheduling information, sharply drawn character studies of individuals crossing Nerzhin's path, and clear-eyed commentary on the catastrophic situation that Nerzhin refuses to recognize as such. The narrative energy and pure esprit of the text are so great, in fact, that it is tempting to speculate that Solzhenitsyn may have found it impossible to finish the novel because of the unbridgeable contrast between the ebullient tone of this work and the tragic coloration of the equally autobiographical The Trail, which had been completed several years before the writer tried to resume Love the Revolution.
-- from The Soul and Barbed Wire, by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Alexis Klimoff
Love the Revolution can be downloaded in the original Russian in PDF format at solzhenitsyn.ru.