“We’re cosmopolitans. So they were right to lock us up.”



Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), prisoner No. 282.

Can’t a man feel free even in prison? If there’s no freedom there, where can he expect to find it?”

Valentin’s face grew serious. He stared into Rubin’s eyes and asked quietly, “Listen, what the hell d’you think you’re doing? Can’t a man feel free even in prison? If there’s no freedom there, where can he expect to find it?”

One of the fitters called him over, and he went off despondently.

Rubin sank noiselessly into his chair, back-to-back with Gleb, and settled down to listen, but the soothing cadences broke off suddenly, like a speech interrupted in mid-sentence—and that was the modest and unostentatious conclusion of Sonana No. 17.

Rubin swore obscenely, for Gleb’s ears only.

“Spell it,” Gleb answered, still sitting with his back to Rubin. “I can’t hear you.”

“I said just my luck,” Rubin answered hoarsely, also without turning round. “Now I’ve missed that sonata. I’d never heard it before.”

“Becasue you’re so disorganized, shall I ever get it into your head!” his friend grumbled. “And a very good sonata it is, too! Did you notice how it ends? No noise, not a whisper. It breaks off abruptly—and that’s that. Just like in real life. … Where were you earlier?”

“With the Germans. Christmas party,” said Rubin with a laugh.
They carried on their conversation, invisible to each other, but almost resting the backs of their heads on each other’s shoulders.

“Good for you.” Gleb thought a while. “I like your attitude to them. You spend hours teaching Max Russian, though you’d be perfectly entitled to hate them.”

“Hate them? No. But of course, the love I used to feel for them is clouded. Max is a gentle chap, and no Nazi, but doesn’t even he share responsibility with the hangmen? After all, he didn’t try to stop them, did he?”

“No. Just as you and I do nothing to stop Abakumov or Shishkin-Myshkin.”

“You know, Glebka, when you come to think of it, I’m as much Russian as Jew. And as much a citizen of the world as I am a Russian.”

“I like that. Citizens of the world! It has a clean, unbloodied sound!”

“In other words we’re cosmopolitans. So they were right to lock us up.”

“Of course they were. Although you keep trying to convince the Supreme Court of the opposite.”

The radio on the windowsill announced: “Logbook of Socialist Emulation in half a minute.”

Half a minue was long enough for Gleb’s hand to move with unhurried efficiency to the receiver and, before the announcer could get a single croak out, switch it off as htough wringing his neck. His face, no longer animated, looked gray and tired.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, In the First Circle (trans. Harry T. Willetts), 1968


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union’s government, was forced to flee his country after he was imprisoned in a labor camp. He spent a great part of his life in Western Europe and the United States, but he returned to his home. Soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, he returned to his home.

He died and lived there for fourteen more years.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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