With an author who goes by the hearty name of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, it's got to be good, or so you'd think. Actually, this book depends more upon enthusiasm for this well-respected Russian writer and the endurance of the reader than the skill of the author. November 1916 has a lot of potential, but I'm afraid that it's a bit too much for my less-than-epic attention span.
Solzhenitsyn became famous as a dissident back in the days of the Soviet Union. Remember Gulag Archipelago? This is the same guy, only now he's turned his focus back in history to the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. It makes sense, now that Russia is free of the Soviets, to understand how it got them in the first place.
At 1000 pages from cover to cover, it's easy to get lost in November 1916. As a matter of fact, there's an index of character names at the back designed just to help the reader along. Not to sound simple-minded, but whoo, mama! Haven't they got anything else to do on cold Russian nights?
The thickness isn't the only challenge for the reader. November 1916 isn't really a novel and it isn't really a history book. It isn't even a historical novel. Rather, Solzhenitsyn's book is something odd in between. The reader starts out with what seems to be a story about soldiers on the front lines back in World War I. Next, it jumps to what looks like some historical documents. Then, it jumps to something else. It dodges, it twists, it weaves, and the reader is left feeling like a settler on a bumpy wagon trail.
I suppose that November 1916 is not aimed at a wide audience. Historians would love the book. Even I want to love the book. I can see that the point is to understand the events behind the Russian Revolution from several perspectives, and that's what makes November 1916 a worthwhile project for both author and reader.
I plan to pick this tome back up from my bookshelves when I can find a good couple weeks in which I can commit an hour every day to reading. Until then, I just might find myself a thinner history of the Communist rise to power to help me understand the true saga behind Solzhenitsyn's big book of Bolshevism a little better.