ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN publishes the first volume of his epic on the Bolshevik Revolution and gives a rare account of his life in Vermont In his first major American interview since 1

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But patient readers will be amply rewarded. The maze of detail can be captivating. Characters are introduced and then vanish for hundreds of pages, only to reappear memorably. At the same time, individual identities are forged and melted in the crucible of history. Throughout the panoramic events, a persistent voice points out the folly and tragedy of what is being recorded: a cataclysm that wrecked a nation and changed the modern world.

Late in the 20th century, Solzhenitsyn has produced a 19th century icon, a saga that presupposes a readership intelligent and leisured enough to follow and stick with it. Coming from someone else, this novel -- not to mention the looming immensity of The Red Wheel -- would seem either quixotic or an example of monumental hubris. But the author, 70, has spent his adult life challenging impossible odds, and recent events indicate that he may be winning.

Suddenly, his reputation in the Soviet Union is soaring. The monthly Moscow literary journal Novy Mir will soon begin publishing excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn's searing account of political prisoners, himself included, in the extended network of Stalinist labor camps; the entire work will also be published in book form. And the Union of Soviet Writers recently announced the reversal of its 1969 decision to expel the author from its ranks for "antisocial behavior" and called on the Supreme Soviet to give back Solzhenitsyn's citizenship.

Vadim Borisov, the Novy Mir editor who is handling Solzhenitsyn's literary affairs in the Soviet Union, has no doubts about the author's importance to his homeland: "If all of Solzhenitsyn's works had been published in their time and not banned, the character of Russian prose today would be different. When his epic historical cycle is read in its entirety, it will have the same significance for Russian literature as Dante's Divine Comedy has for European literature."

In his splendid exile in Vermont, the author busies himself preparing the final pages of The Red Wheel. With the major work of his crowded, harrowing life all but behind him, he strikes loved ones and friends as more relaxed. His eye now in life, as it has always been in his writing, seems serenely and ! confidently fixed on eternity.

In his first major American interview since 1979, Solzhenitsyn reflects on his work, his past and his country's turbulent history

Q. The novel August 1914 was first published in 1971 in Russian, and now the English translation of a completely new edition is just being published. Why did you feel it necessary to add some 300 pages to the original manuscript?

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