Books

Sweetness in a World of Cruelty in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 'Apricot Jam and Other Stories'

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The warm, jewel-like hue of something as simple as apricot jam becomes a fetish object to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


Apricot Jam and Other Stories

Publisher: Counterpoint
Format: Hardcover
Price: $28.00
Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Length: 375 pages
Translated by: Stephen Solzhenitsyn & Kenneth Lantz
Publication date: 2011-09
Amazon

Once you inhabit a world in which the regime dictates movements and feelings and politicises thought and action, then the moral landscape is utterly ambiguous and the concept of personal responsibility can be lost. The warm, jewel-like hue of something as simple as apricot jam becomes a fetish object to Alexander Solzhenitsyn in this context, epitomizing all the desire and appetite in life for sweetness, succulence, plenty; in other words what was missing under Soviet rule.

Indeed, simplicity, sweetness, warmth, and satisfaction are qualities and states of being that all the characters in this collection of short stories manage to lose and sadly for most of them, never regain.

These stories are written in a ‘binary’ mode, as Solzhenitsyn termed it. That is, he juxtaposed and paired contrasting narratives, characters with the same name, and Revolutionary and post-Soviet tales. It's not a rule he sticks to strictly, but rather, an opportunity to make comparisons between shifting and transient states. One of the most powerful qualities that these stories exude is the ruthlessness that post-Revolutionary Russia imposed in creating a population which could be shuttled from one province to another, causing no end of upheaval to ordinary lives.

His characters are so mobile that the reader finds it exhausting on their behalf. Men, women, and children are made nomadic as first Revolution and then Civil War strike their country and make them, in the name of freedom of the workers, an indentured people who must do as they are told – or else.

Really touching stories emerge in that blunt and matter-of-fact way that Solzhenitsyn creates, in order to convey the magnitude of cruelty and suffering. I was particularly moved by the dual narratives of ‘Nastenka’. Two women of the same name navigate the sometimes impossibly bleak waters of the post-Revolutionary state. The first Nastya has brief interludes where she works as a prostitute to support her daughter, in total contradiction to what was supposed to be achieved by the glorious revolution. Solzhenitsyn never lost sight of the fact that ruination was the product for most Russians and that the class distinctions were never removed, they just changed.

The ‘Apricot Jam’ of the title is a fleeting memory for one character, but an emblem of privilege in the contrasting narrative. It occupies a place of honour in a glistening bowl on the tea table of the writer who has a state-approved reputation. Solzhenitsyn’s significant contribution to 20th century political fiction demonstrated that time allowed the dissident writer opportunities for contemplation and construction of narratives that handle minute, personal detail. His Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich laid bare the harrowing experiences of those suffering the gulag system of imprisonment. The Soviet Union managed a unique and specific form of punishment. In writing The Gulag Archipelago he exposed the ‘other’ state within the vastness of the Soviet Union; that of the lives and suffering of those sent away to the margins as much for something concocted as real crimes.

The power and meticulous construction that we have come to expect of this political writer and Nobel Prize winner is certainly not absent. It will be a satisfactory exploration for those familiar with the scale of his work that encompasses intimacy and vastness. This collection is human and moving, as well as hard-hitting and historically relevant. For those who might be new to his work, this is a suitably challenging, but manageable read, and well worth it.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.