From The American Spectator’s December 2007-January 2008 issue: Part II of our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.p> Kevin Lynch br> Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is famous for minding his own business, both during the years he was creating literary bombshells inside the Soviet Union as well as during his 18 years of exile in the United States. Since his return to Russia in 1994, the man whose pen proved mightier than the Soviet Union has done what he has always done, concentrated on his work and fended off intruders. Legions of would-be interviewers, especially those from the West, failed to gain access, no matter how impeccable their credentials. But a few years after his return home, the Nobel prizewinner opened his doors to Joseph Pearce, an Englishman whose previous works included biographies of G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien. The result of the interviews, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile , shows the Russian icon chose his man wisely. Pearce’s passion is Solzhenitsyn’s passion, what the Russian has described as the “universal and eternal questions.” In addition to the insights he provides into Solzhenitsyn’s work, Pearce, an agnostic turned Catholic, asks questions that secular interviewers are more comfortable avoiding (if they occur to them at all) and Solzhenitsyn answers. /p>
Having whetted the appetite with Pearce’s book, the thoughtful giver would naturally want to include a book by the master himself. But there are so many. What is a busy Christmas shopper to do? Answer: The recently published The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005. In one splendid volume, Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney have collected selections from Solzhenitsyn’s poems, short stories, memoirs (The Oak and the Calf), novels (The First Circle and Cancer Ward), and other works, such as the earthshaking Gulag Archipelago. Also included are many of his essays and speeches, some famous (including his Nobel acceptance speech) and others little known, such as one he gave in Liechtenstein in 1993 in which he paid tribute to the tiny country’s World War II leader, Prince Franz Joseph II, for providing what Solzhenitsyn called a “lesson in courage.” At the end of the war British and American officials agreed with Stalin to repatriate hundreds of thousands of anti-Communist Russians, Ukrainians, and other Soviet-bloc refugees who wrongly believed they had found safety in the West. But Franz Joseph refused to comply, thereby saving the detachment of Russian anti-Communists in his country from what awaited hundreds of thousands of others on their forced return to the Soviet Union: outright execution or slow death in a concentration camp. At the time of Solzhenitsyn’s speech close to 50 years had elapsed since the repatriations. But he remembered and paid homage. That this towering figure, 89 this month, is still among us is another reason for joy this Christmas.
And what will the children do while the adults are immersed in Solzhenitsyn? The ones Santa really likes will be savoring The Saga of Erik the Viking, the spellbinding story of a brave Viking who sets off with his brave crew to find where the sun goes at night. They find it, but what heart-stopping adventures they have on the way, facing the evilly seductive Old Man of the Sea, the terrifying Dogfighters, and the wicked Enchantress of the Fjord, to name just a few. Author Terry Jones is probably best known as a member of Monty Python, but in a better world he would be more renowned for his children’s stories, especially The Saga of Erik the Viking. The book is best in hardcover because that version does more justice to the spectacular illustrations of Michael Foreman. Warning: Several years after Erik was published, Jones wrote and directed a dreadful movie called Erik the Viking that was aimed at an older audience. It failed miserably, while the book is an utter triumph.
Kevin Lynch, former articles editor of National Review, lives in Arlington, Virginia.p> Heather Mac Donald br> If you live for classical music, you must not die before reading Hector Berlioz’s Memoirs . (
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