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Reviewed by:
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Modern Russo-Jewish Question
  • Theodore H. Friedgut
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Modern Russo-Jewish Question, by Nathan D. Larson. Stuttgart: ibidem Verlag, 2005. 164 pp. €15.20.

The author of this volume has undertaken a task as complex as it is controversial. He seeks to present an understanding of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's attitude toward Jews in the context of the "Jewish Question" in contemporary Russia. This is a subject of considerable prominence in current intellectual discourse, not least of all because of Solzhenitsyn's involvement. It is therefore to be regretted that he hedges his position, stating his aim as "not to answer but to illuminate the present-day Jewish Question . . ." (p. 12). This emerges as a weakness of Mr. Larson's methodology, an even-handed neutrality in which all narratives are equally valid. In addition he appears enamored of a metaphysical, even mystical view of Russia and its literature, designating almost every aspect of the discussion as enigmatic, mysterious, a riddle, etc., rather [End Page 205] than seeking intellectually consistent interpretations. The most egregious example of this is his treatment of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a subject on which he dwells only because in his essay "Jews in the Soviet Union and in Future Russia," Solzhenitsyn is cited as referring to them as a "crude, near parodic rendering of a demonically subtle and well thought out plan" (p. 126). As to their provenance, Larson writes that "most scholars simply steer clear of the question. . ." (p. 123). He declines to take a stand, despite demonstrating full knowledge of the research dealing with the forged origins and uses made of the Protocols, and describes them as a palimpsest, leaving the implication that beneath the superimposed layers, there must have been an original set of conspirators' notes.

In addition there are a number of other faults in Mr. Larson's presentation. He conflates nation, race, and religion, interchanging them as though they were synonymous. His knowledge of Russia's Jews, past and present, appears insufficient, allowing errors to appear in his text (p. 23, p. 32, p. 111) . He is not careful in his sources; neither Stanley Mann (p. 23) nor Israel Shamir (p. 113) is a historian or scholar, and the introduction of opinions by Noam Chomsky and by Shimon Peres is gratuitous. Larson appears to have some difficulties with English language usage, at times distorting or obscuring the meaning of his text, (p. 41, p. 78, p. 128) which in any case could use more careful editing and proofreading (p. 16, p. 39, pp. 40–41).

As to the content of the book, the author begins with Solzhenitsyn's biography and an attempt to locate Solzhenitsyn on the maps of Russian nationalism and of Judeophobia. This is followed by a historical survey of the "Jewish Question" in the modern world and a sample survey of Russian literature, which he finds to be ambivalent regarding Jews and Jewishness. The author then returns to the debate on Solzhenitsyn's characterizations of Jews, before veering onto another tangent with half a chapter on the Jewish Question in post-Soviet Russia devoted to the Jewish oligarchs. The author then returns to Solzhenitsyn with two chapters on his 1960s essay "Evrei SSSR i v budushchei Rossii" and his recent two volume "Dvesti let vmeste" before a lengthy digression on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and finally, Solzhenitsyn's "ambivalence," leading to the conclusion that Solzhenitsyn is an important figure in modern literature—an indisputable conclusion, but with little relevance to the subject of this book—and that he embodies the Russian people's collective views on the contemporary Jewish Question—a doubtful assertion in our opinion.

Is there evidence to warrant a conclusion one way or another? Solzhenitsyn's use of anti-Jewish stereotypes is one such category. The character of Parvus, gross and satanic, is mentioned by Larson—though he omits several "Jewish" traits: Lenin's assertion of Parvus's "undying faith in the omnipotence [End Page 206] of money," Parvus's uncanny facility for manipulating behind the scenes and slipping away in moments of crisis, leaving others to be arrested, and finally...


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