“The Buddha’s Smile”, chapter 59 of In the First Circle, a novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, contains a brief mention of Friends.
In the First Circle tells the story of the inmates at Butyrki, a prison for scientists and engineers, in Moscow in 1949. Butyrki is an elite jail with adequate food and decent working conditions, though the threat of transfer to a harsh workcamp is always present. The prisoners invent and perfect technology.
In “The Buddha’s Smile”, Andrei Potapov, a prisoner, gathers with the other inmates and remembers a past incident at Butyrki: One day most of the prisoners from Cell 72 were removed. The remaining 25 inmates were showered and reclothed, then returned to their cell. In the meantime, the cell had been cleaned and beds and bookcases had been installed. Then, to their astonishment, Eleanor Roosevelt, with a secretary, an interpreter and “two respectable matrons of the Quaker persuasion”, on behalf of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, entered the cell to check on prison conditions. Satisfied with what she observed, Roosevelt and her entourage left. The prisoners were immediately stripped of their new clothes, the beds and bookcases were taken out and the other inmates brought back to the cell.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was, of course, the Russian novelist and historian. He was also a political prisoner and was jailed at Butyrki, among other prisons. He became a leading opponent of the Soviet government. The Soviet government came about, he said, because “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
Solzhenitsyn depicted Friends as naïve because of their participation in Roosevelt’s visit. (The visit never happened, by the way). I found this refreshing. If Quakers are known at all, the opinions about us are usually kind. But our faults are rarely explored.
I recommend you read “The Buddha’s Smile”. It is wonderful -and very funny -writing. To find the excerpt, type in “in the first circle pdf” in a search engine. Chapter 59 begins on page 485.