Friday, December 16, 2011

Discussion Questions for The First Circle



December 22, 2009

  1. What is the better book- The First Circle (redacted for Soviet consumption) or In the First Circle (restored)? Who are the protagonists of each? Does book really make sense when the focus of the investigation is passing medical information versus passing nuclear technology?
  1. Does your view of Innokenty depend on his motivation (that is whether his motivation is protecting a colleague versus protecting a society from unstable politicians)? Is your view of the Major soften when he focuses on discovering the caller rather than killing all five men who could be the caller?
  1. What is Solzhenitsyn’s view on the development of Soviet technology? On the recruitment of personnel? What might Joel Mokyr say about Soviet diffusion of propositional knowledge? How about the development of a social network to diffuse such knowledge?
  1. Hypothetically, would Vic Abakumov rather send James Watson to a sharashka or ask him to join the government?
  1. What makes Marfino sharashka the first circle of hell? Let’s face it; doesn’t Innokenty really deserve to be in the second circle? Is hell loss of dignity? Perhaps it’s the “C” students guarding the “A” students?
  1. Is First Circle existential even though the story is collective?
  1. The term “Zek” derives from incarcerated canal man. According to a friend who grew up in Soviet Russia, Soviets built their canals the same way the Egyptian slaves built the pyramids. What makes the portrayal of Soviets so negative in First Circle, especially given the nuclear component of the plot? Wouldn’t the story of zeks building canals be a better indictment?
  1. Was Inny’s harsh treatment by his captors de rigor for nuclear treason, or did you get the idea Al forgot to restore the chapter having to do with Molly complaining to her old man about Inny banging Italian models during his assignment in Rome?
  1. Gleb comments that human history is “like an octopus, with neither back nor front.” What does such a comment imply we cannot really learn from history in any meaningful sense?
  1. Does Solzhenitsyn repudiate his background in mathematics when the naive optics guy looks forward to the day when men of science rule the world?
  1. Who has the power of free will? Uncle Avenir? Uncle Vanya? Gleb? Man Without Qualities? Svejk? Innokenty? Rubin? Alan Moore? Who justified his actions with “Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. Why does one death matter against so many?” Stalin? Beria? Rorschach?
  1. Does First Circle need a narrator to add some historical gloss or moral clarity?

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