I post book reviews of impossibly big reads on this blog. They’re the literary heavyweights, on the older side. Don’t be afraid of a history lesson. A heavy classic book needs only a big attitude, big ideas, and more than a little bit of profundity. These books change the way people read. Some have changed the world.
Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky 496 pages Published in 2000
Reflections of an unhappy world
Anton Chekhov had an enviable career. Published at a young age, he found instant success. Soon, Chekhov was winning awards and being hailed by the likes of Tolstoy. In addition to his rare talent, Chekhov was prolific. He wrote over 200 short stories and authored eight plays. Yet, he wasn’t only a critical darling. His writing was popular with the regular people he wrote about. By the time of his death at age 44, Chekhov was considered a national treasure of Russia.
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 704 pages Published in 1976
Could a government fail this badly?
The word ‘archipelago’ conjures up images of a restful vacation. The scattered islands of the Aegean Sea are one such setting. People want to go there. And so we realize this oddly-poetic title, The Gulag Archipelago, is laced with sarcasm. Solzhenitsyn was not sent on vacation by his utopian government, the Soviet Union. He and his fellow citizens were not protected, supported, nor empowered. At least eighteen million of them were, by the weakest of connections or for no reason at all, branded as enemies. They were arrested, coerced to confess, sentenced to a prison term that was often fatal, or simply shot. Who would be next?