In the First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I have done it! I have read all of In the First Circle. This is a spectacular book, but it took me a long time to read because it's not the kind of book you gulp down. You have to go a bit more slowly. Also, my copy is very large, so I had to be sitting down and concentrating in order to read--which is good for the experience, but an awful lot of my reading is done while standing up and doing other things, or over lunch, or something like that. There is not that much sitting-down focused reading in my life.
This is a huge story. There is a long list of characters at the front (very helpful!), and they have their own lives, but connect at some points. Even Stalin gets several chapters to himself. The main storyline concerns the zeks (prisoners) at a special prison where they must use their engineering and technical skills to develop secret government technology--in particular, a telephone system that will encode conversation in real time (just for Stalin), and voice identification technology. At the same time, a diplomatic officer decides to take a huge risk to inform the American embassy that a Soviet spy is going to receive plans for the atomic bomb. Since all phone calls are monitored and recorded, the zeks are given the assignment to figure out who, of a possible 5 people, could have made that phone call.
The central plot of the story takes only 3 or 4 days. But since many of the characters have stories of their own to tell, the novel sprawls everywhere, encompassing all of Russia since the Revolution.
I LOVED this novel. Loved loved loved. It's definitely one of my best reads of the year so far, and very much worth the effort. Thanks to Amy at Book Musings for introducing me to it!