If you like to read...read this, April 22, 2001
Reviewer: Bob Manson (Berkeley, CA United States)
I was first introduced to Solzhenitsyn's works when I was a freshman in high school, far too many years ago in a little town. The book was the Volume 1 of The Gulag Archipelago. It was really an eye-opener for me in so many ways, given that it was the first "really serious" book that I'd read.
I believe that Solzhenitsyn is the best writer of the 20th century, or at least he's the top writer I've read so far (and I've read a lot of books). Maybe that's influenced by my early exposure, but I don't think so; I find his works just as compelling now as I did then.
The First Circle is one of his most "accessible" works (that is, you can just jump in and start reading) and probably one of his best. A very compelling story; his portraits of the various vile creatures of the Soviet government have been shown to be quite accurate, and the way the various plots intertwine and are resolved is wonderful.
The First Circle gives great insight into a culture totally foreign to most US citizens, as the book's a mixture of spy novel, guide to life in a Gulag camp, and brief introduction to Soviet society of the 1950s. A depressing place to be sure, but fascinating. Well worth reading.