Books

From one exile to another

BARBARA AMIEL May 3 1976
Books

From one exile to another

BARBARA AMIEL May 3 1976

From one exile to another

LENIN IN ZURICH by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, $9.95)

“So what can we do with Solzhenitsyn?” asked Bernard Levin in the London Times last month. Give him hemlock or crucify him was Levin’s conclusion, based on the fate of those other two great figures of history who took to dishing out uncomfortable truths. But Solzhenitsyn survives. Like an old-fashioned bookkeeper’s, his ledgers keep careful account of the occurrence of evil in the name of good. One nonregulation woolly shirt seized from convict Caesar in the forced-labor camp at 27 degrees of frost. Noted. Solzhenitsyn’s books are the balance sheet of some implacable recording angel. But the chronicling of wickedness, in itself a staggering task, is not enough. It isn’t the wastelands of the Gulag that nurture evil, but the grey and wrinkled brain of man.

Solzhenitsyn’s new undertaking is a multi-volume study of the personalities behind the Russian Revolution: the minds which made this century what it is. Of these, a small, balding lawyer named Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov casts the inkiest shadow. “The workers of the world,” wrote Ulianov in the early 1900s, “have nothing to lose but their chains.” He was writing in exile, a bitter émigré with splitting headaches, a few erratic followers and one or two wealthy patrons. He took the undercover name of N. Lenin.

The Father of Soviet Russia spent 15 years in exile between the turn of the cen-

tury and the outbreak of the Revolution. Lenin In Zurich covers the last three years before his German-financed return to Russia in 1917. The Emperor, Wilhelm, hoped Lenin could split Russia from the allies, and Lenin hoped to take advantage of the downfall of Wilhelm’s cousin, Emperor Nicholas, to make a social revolution. Solzhenitsyn enters the mind of Lenin of the Zurich period: a man paralyzed by his failure to ignite the revolution, driven by the certainty of revealed truth, and filled with contempt for the workers who sensed they had more to lose than their chains. Faced with the total inability of the West to understand and, through understanding, resist the workings of the totalitarian spirit, Alexander Solzhenitsyn regards it as his mission to recreate Lenin with such precision that the blindest might fathom the passion and brilliance of his evil genius.

Understanding, of course, is a two-way street. Solzhenitsyn has more than fulfilled his part of the bargain. BARBARA AMIEL