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In the early months of what came to be known as World War I, events seemed to be mostly going Russia’s way. Russian troops prevailed over Austrian forces in Galicia, and, more importantly, Germany failed in its effort to blitzkrieg France before Russia could mobilize, greatly easing the Triple Entente’s task.
However, what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw in this chapter of history was not so much the success of Russian arms as the looming shadow of revolution and catastrophe. This is why in planning The Red Wheel, his multi-volume novel about the Russian Revolution, he focused on the tragic defeat of General Samsonov’s army in Eastern Prussia, rather than Russian victories. And it is why he named the first cycle or “knot” of his epic August 1914.
Even in Solzhenitsyn’s youth, the events of the war’s first weeks struck him as exceptionally important. The introduction to The Red Wheel informs us that “The author came up with the idea of writing August 1914 in 1937, not as Knot 1, but as the introduction to a long novel on the Russian Revolution. It was then, in Rostov-na-Donu in 1937, that all the information about the Samsonov catastrophe available in the Soviet Union (and there was no shortage of it) was compiled and the first chapters were written.”
At this point war, prison and exile invaded the author’s life in a way that one might think would have forced him to forget all about this novel, but many years later, the introduction continues, work resumed.
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