Soviet exile's memories, regrets; Memoirs, by Petro G. Grigorenko, translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 462 pp. $19.95.
There is an ultimate sadness that surfaces in the closing pages of these lifetime recollections of a general the Soviets have exiled. It is that for people like Petro Grigorenko it is as punishing to be locked out of the Soviet Union as it is to be locked up inside the USSR.
The general lives now in an apartment in Queens. He's been there since 1977, when, during a trip from Moscow for medical treatment, his citizenship was suddenly canceled. His wife and son - whose papers were not foreclosed - are with him, but freedom from torture, surveillance, harassment, humiliation, and deprivation is not enough when roots have been severed.
He writes: ''I would return to my motherland even if I knew that I would be taken directly to an insane asylum. . . . What I lack is that community in which I lived in the Soviet Union whose spirit I could always feel, even in the asylum. My family and I were in constant communication with people who were in tune with us. Such people were everywhere.'' Away from his battles, he is uneasy.
General Grigorenko worries, in fact, as of course does Solzhenitsyn, that the West willingly trades spiritual conviction for worldliness which, he fears, leads it to take aggressive Soviet intentions too blithely.
''Material abundance,'' he writes sweepingly, both to sum up his life and analyze his surrogate homeland, ''cannot be the end of human activity. The purpose of life is something else.''
From childhood early in the century on a farm in Berisovka in the Ukraine, to elite army duty throughout the country, to human rights protests and samizdat (underground) essays in the 1970s in Moscow, Grigorenko pushed hard for achievement and excellence. But he was judged a troublemaker. Despairing of communist mindlessness, he protested once too often and too boldly and was stripped of rank and party status. That was in 1961.
His complaints intensified, and in 1969 he was sentenced to prison - psychiatric prison - to permit the bureaucracy either to contrive or to confirm insanity. It failed. He was released after five years.
Human rights dissidence had escalated during his years out of touch, and he now joined ranks with names we've come to know in the West: Yelena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Anatoly Marchenko, Anatoly Shcharansky, Prof. Yuri Orlov. They rallied around the 1975 Helsinki accords and fought the KGB (and Yuri Andropov, its chief at the time) to expose abuses. In 1977, the medical trip abroad was allowed. But it was to be a one-way trip. Then, far from home, he turned to writing these memoirs.
This is not easy or pleasant reading. Parts of its history are sketchy. Names and relationships are often puzzling to those who were not there along the way with the general. Only with an excellent atlas can the Grigorenko trail be traced from the Ukraine and Crimea to Tashkent, to the Far East. Yet with so many of these pages focused intimately on one of the world's bravest human rights movements, the book adds important new facts and insights to the literature of that cause.