Sunday, January 26, 2014

Apricot Jam - Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Summer homework before I started my English A level was a reading list from which we had to choose a book ready to talk about it at the beginning of term. 16 isn't an age I would want to be again but I do sometimes have a wave of nostalgia for how much things seemed to matter (and the lack of responsibility). It was a longish reading list which inevitably had 'The Catcher in the Rye' on it (I didn't take to it then and can't imagine I'd like it more now), 'The Mill on the Floss' which was the book I chose to read and which has given me a lifelong indifference to George Eliot, the only other book I remember on it was 'One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich' which had a profound effect on me and I only chose to read it as well because it was so short.

If there's one thing a 16 year old can be sure of relating to it's the crushing unfairness of life when you're on the wrong side of Stalin. I've read 'One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich' many times since and still find it a powerful book but I never got much further with Solzhenitsyn. I got a review copy of 'Apricot Jam and other stories' sometime late in 2012, read the title story and no further but recent attempts to tidy up unearthed the book and made me think about it again.

What I realised reading 'Apricot Jam' was just how much 'One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich' had coloured my view of communism - the distinction between Stalin and communism was more than my 16 year old self was likely to grasp (George Orwell didn't help either). 'Apricot Jam' expressed that same burning sense of unfairness - it was all very terrible, depressing, and Russian. Life not being fair is still something I find it easy to relate too but when I first tried to read this book it was certainly one a distraction. I'm not sure why but I don't think I expected Solzhenitsyn to still be having the same conversation, maybe because when I was 16 the cold war was journalism rather than history and because reading this no longer had the shock value that 'One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich' had for me when I first encountered it. Whatever the reasons I found it impossible to evaluate this book but having found it again it's definitely time to put it back on the tbr pile and have another go.  

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