One of the greatest Russian novels of all time, this epic explores the dark side of Soviet life in the final years of Stalin's reign of terror.
Indirectly based on Solzhenitsyn's own experiences of working as a mathematician in a prison research institute, The First Circle is set amongst a group of scientists caught up in the system of prison camps. Forced to work for the secret police, they debate the morality of what they doing but are cruelly aware that failure to co-operate would secure them a worse fate. The title is a reference to the first, and least unpleasant, circle of Hell in Dante's inferno but Solzhenitsyn's characters know that the lower circles of hell are there in the shape of the forced labour camps and that these await them if they make a false step. This searing insight into the dark side of Soviet life in the final years of Stalin's regime is both a brooding account of human nature and a scrupulously exact description of a historical period.