Brief Reviews

Invisible Allies
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,
translated by Alexis Klimoff and Michael Nicholson.
Counterpoint, 352 pages, $29.50.
Read the first chapter of
Invisible Allies

Mr. Solzhenitsyn could not have disseminated his writings in the Soviet Union or smuggled his works to the outside world without the help of admirers who typed and stored manuscripts, provided hideouts where he could work undisturbed, and acted as couriers. It was time-consuming work, decidedly dangerous, and, of course, unpaid. Mr. Solzhenitsyn cannot compensate his supporters except by making a public tribute to them, for many are now dead and some he never knew. His sketches of those he did know and his accounts of what they did introduce the reader to brave, dedicated, generous people, some of whom acted out of a desire to reform Soviet society while disagreeing with Mr. Solzhenitsyn's vision of the shape that reform should take. Many of these allies were women--possibly women found it easier to avoid the eye of the secret police--and all of them ran a very serious risk of abuse, imprisonment, and murder. The author believes that an attempt was made to murder him, and an appendix containing the 1992 statement of a former KGB agent appears to confirm that. Altogether, this memoir presents a grim contrast between the Soviet government's brutality and stupidity and the nerve and ingenuity of its citizens.

At Eighty-Two
by May Sarton.
Norton, 350 pages, $23.00.

The late May Sarton, poet and novelist among other things, kept a journal through her eighty-second year. It is a chronicle of good friends, correspondence leading at times to a "disastrous pile" of unanswered letters, excitement at the production of a play written long ago, and the eccentricities of her overweight cat, who, given food recommended by the vet because Pierrot "will not like it and will not eat it," fairly wolfed it down. The journal also records the annoyances of old age: uncertain balance, clumsy fingers, mislaid names and objects, inadequate strength, frequent pain, and the admission that "words do not obey me anymore"--infuriating for a professional master of words. Sarton was saddened by the belief that "my work has missed the boat," the boat being serious critical attention, and consoled herself by quoting Hilaire Belloc on his own work: "His sins were scarlet, but his books were read." She remained capable of determining "to make a new start and to pull myself up by the bootstraps and behave better altogether." She cannot do that now, but her books will continue to be read.

I. M. Pei
by Michael Cannell.
Carol Southern/Crown, 402 pages, $35.00.
Read the first chapter of
I. M. Pei

Ieoh Ming Pei was born to a prosperous banking dynasty in Suzhou, a city renowned in China for beauty and elegance. Pursuit of an architectural education brought him to the United States and Chinese communism kept him here. Mr. Cannell's study of the career of the "Mandarin of Modernism" is less the biography of an individual--his subject is noted for a combination of great charm and impenetrable reserve--than it is a history of the architecture of the past fifty years. It covers influences--traditional, modernist, postmodernist--and technical innovations and intra-professional arguments, illustrating these developments with Pei's buildings and the uproar they sometimes caused. His Hancock tower alarmed the citizens of Boston by spewing windows onto the sidewalk; once brought to order, the skyscraper proved both handsome and unobtrusive. His proposal to build a glass pyramid as the new entrance to the Louvre kept Paris in a fierce tizzy of argument for months; when finished, the pyramid won acceptance and applause. One learns a great deal from this book about the peripheral problems, both diplomatic and financial, of large-scale construction. One does not learn much about I. M. Pei except in the character of accomplished and successful architect. And, come to think of it, why should one want to? The buildings are what matters.

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