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The malls have been decorated for Christmas and the vapid holiday songs have been assaulting our ears since somewhere around Labor Day. But in the Christian calendar, we are still in the season of Advent, a time when believers around the world remember the 500 years in which the people of Israel lived and died under political oppression, waiting for the Messiah who would somehow “bring forth justice to the nations.”
While it may not be the first book that comes to mind, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel “In the First Circle” is an especially appropriate work for the Advent season because it asks, “How do you go on living when suffering and injustice will follow you all the way to the grave?”
Novel - Sharashka - Prison - Research - Institute
The novel is set in 1949, in a Soviet sharashka, a prison research institute where “class enemies” with useful skills are sent to develop and apply new technologies for the Soviet state. Here prisoners work in offices and laboratories instead of camps, and enjoy decent food and living conditions.
The residents are aware, however, that their state is like that of the souls in the first circle of Dante’s **** — a place where worthy pagan philosophers and sages are permitted to live free from the torments of the lower depths but eternally separated from the joys of Heaven. Most of the sharashka’s prisoners will never be free, and they know it.
Pain - Death - Prisoners - Knowledge - Hopelessness
It is not fear of physical pain or imminent death that torments the prisoners. Rather, it is the knowledge of all they have lost and the hopelessness of the long years ahead:
Perhaps prison is most horrible when there is no horror? When the horror consists in the gray routine never varying from week to week? When you forget that the one and only life given to you on this earth has...
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