The Oak and the Calf: Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union, by Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn. Translated from the Russian by Harry Willetts. New York: Harper Colophon Books. 568 pp. $8.95.
When Nobel Prize winner Solzhenitsyn blew up at a protester in Harvard Yard, was it all according to what he had learned during his harsh years in Soviet labor camps?
Here is the writer's triumphant ordeal in his own flavorsomely translated words, evoking how it felt to attain a precarious celebrity in middle age, settling old scores, and displaying a bit of self-righteousness.
In the camps and afterward he found ways of concealing writings he was determined to preserve for posterity whether he was around to see them or not. He used tiny handwriting, rolled pages into tight cylinders, squeezed them into a bottle, and buried it. He saved his verse and prose by memorizing thousands of lines, aided by improvised decimal counting beads, and spending as much as a week out of every month in regular repetition of everything he had memorized.
In this book, Solzhenitsyn helps those with the taken-for-granted luxury of freedom to understand a man who once wrote to his Soviet editor: ''I feel that my whole life is a process of rising gradually from my knees. . . .''