Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book 54: August 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Title: August 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Pages: 622

How it was obtained: I borrowed this from my parent's house.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 or 5 years.

Days spent reading it: 6 days.

Why I read it: In high school I was forced to read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." I remember not liking it at all. I thought it was boring. But many things I found boring in high school I now enjoy. So I thought I would read another novel by Solzhenitsyn, and see how it went.

Brief review: I am not sure what I was expecting, but this book was not it. From Solzenhitsyn I guess I expected a little more. The characters were fairly flat, thus it was difficult to tell one officer from another. The fighting sequences were complicated. I had no idea if an advance was good or bad, even after the battle was explained. I have read good war novels that explain complicated maneuvers. The Killer Angels comes to mind as a good example, where I could envision the entire battle and basic battle plans were given as pictures on occasion so I understood the flow of the battle better. That was not present in August 1914 and I think the book suffers because of it.

I have no deep understanding of the Russian front during World War I. So this was my first real exposure to that era. One thing that is brought out in this book was how terrible the conditions of war are. My tenth grade English teacher once summed up every war novel. She said their theme is always very simple: "War is hell." August 1914 does not press this point as much as other novels, but it does convey the hardships endured by the soldiers of the day. The one overriding theme that I did understand was that the Russian generals were completely incompetent in this battle. From start to finish Solzenhitsyn blasts the generals in charge of this offensive (and defensive) blunder.

I had a few qualms with this book in its current form. First, every now and then the narrative stops and we are given these "scenes" that are written with screen play directions. These directions were apparently how Solzenhitsyn envisioned this book on film. It was strange to break the flow of the story in order to introduce his vision for another medium. It felt like the book was 90% complete, not 100% complete. And, oddly, chapter 22 was omitted "by the request of the author." Strange. I have read that this book was revised later and nearly 200 pages were added to it. I don't think I could read through 200 more pages, but I wonder if it would clarify some of the issues I had with the work.

Anyway, in brief, this book was alright, but I would not read it again and I would not recommend it to anyone unless they were extremely interested in Russian literature (or possibly Russian history).

Favorite quote: Evil people always support each other; that is their chief strength.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Final Word: Bland.

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