The Red Wheel

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This article is about a series of novels. For the American publishing company, see Red Wheel Weiser Conari.

The Red Wheel is a cycle of novels by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, retelling and exploring the passing of Imperial Russia and the birth-pangs of the Soviet Union. Though Solzhenitsyn says he conceived the idea in 1938 and gathered notes for Part 1, August 1914 (which is about the disastrous opening of World War I from a Russian perspective) in the weeks when he led a Red Army unit into Eastern Prussia, the location of much of that part, in 1945, it was only in early 1969 that he actually sat down to write this historical novel. August 1914 was finished in late 1970, submitted for publication to Soviet printing houses, but turned down. Instead, it appeared abroad, at YMCA Press in Paris, without Solzhenitsyn's knowledge (though he gave his approval as soon as the news reached him).

When Solzhenitsyn was banished and stripped of his citizenship in 1974, his wife and other associates brought his manuscripts and archive out of the Soviet Union to the West, and he continued working on the novel in exile. A few chapters were published by the Russian exile church journal Vestnik in Paris in 1978-79, but it wasn't until 1984 that the work began to appear again in bookshops. In this year a revised and expanded edition of August 1914 was published, again by YMCA Press, also including powerful sections on the revolution of 1905 and the assassination of the Czar's minister Pyotr Stolypin in 1911.

The cycle currently has appeared as:

  • August 1914, 1971 (expanded form in 1984)
  • October 1916, 2 volumes, 1985
  • March 1917, 4 volumes, 1989
  • April 1917, ca 1991 (not translated into English so far)

The plan in 1970 was to continue up until the mid-twenties, at least 1922, the point when the Soviet Union formally came into being and when Lenin had to give up his grip on power due to illness. The progress of the work beyond 1917 was no doubt also intended to make it complement the research into the roots of the Soviet labour camp system carried out in The Gulag Archipelago, and it is reasonably clear that Solzhenitsyn also would have brought up other instances of the repression during the civil war, for example a peasants' revolt at Tambov in 1921; this is indicated by a list of locations on which the author asked for help with historical settings, pictures and so on (given in the expanded edition of August 1914 in 1984).