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Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  • August 6th, 2008
  • Posted by 7thmin

solzhenitsyn-schoolnetuk.jpgThe persecuted writer who informed on Soviet state terror has been lauded in his home country, at the end of his life.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was buried in Moscow (6.6.08) attended by a Russian Army honour guard and leaders of the former Soviet state.

Mikhail Gorbachev said the Nobel Prize winning novelist had been “able to survive everything they threw at him”, because he had always remained independent.

The well-known narrative of Solzhenitsyn represented triumph of the human spirit: A young man of Christian background but for a time a communist, a mathematician and scientist, he fought in the Great Patriotic War; military censors found some minor criticism in a letter to a friend, so he became part of the huge wave of soldiers and repatriated prisoners of war sent to bestial imprisonment, by a paranoid and criminal state; he wrote about it in a succession of powerful, realistic books; in later times he worked towards “compensatory” Russian histories, making up for experiences of the nation obliterated from the records and popular memory.

Works included the early novella One Day I n the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the only book by Solzhenitsyn published in the then Soviet Union (in 1962, during the Kruschev “thaw”); the Gulag Archipelago, giving the name to the labour camps system; August 1914, an exhaustive and insightful fictionalised treatment of the Tannenberg military debacle; and the First Circle – the life of “zeks”, camp internees, in a prison research facility.

A fragment from Gulag Archipelago invokes the independent, stand-up-for-your-rights spirit: “What would things have been like if … during periods of mass arrests … people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang on the downstairs door and every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people?”

Sent into exile in 1974 Alexander Solzhenitsyn would continue to call it as he saw it; in America decrying a waste of freedom, badly craved in other lands:

“Freedom! To fill people’s mailboxes, eyes, ears and brains with commercial rubbish against their will, television programs that are impossible to watch with a sense of coherence … Freedom! To spit in the eyes and souls of passersby with advertisements. Freedom! For publishers and film producers to poison the younger generations with corrupting filth. Freedom! For adolescents of fourteen to eighteen to immerse themselves in idleness and pleasure instead of intensive study and spiritual growth …” ; speech to the Hoover Institution; quoted by David Remnick (2007):168.

Solzhenitsyn wrote a book on Russian Jewry, in the words of the American journalist Remnick (208) , “putting Jewish suffering into a wider context of Russian suffering”. Remnick, who followed Solzhenitsyn and interviewed him at length, discounted calumnies against his subject as anti-semitic, or “hardline nationalist, tsarist or slavophile”, reporting: “his books are not anti-semitic, and he is not in his personal relations, anti-Jewish”.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s later polemics took up the fight against official corruption and the defence of Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics.

He was married to two women who took part in his literary work; twice to the late Natalya Alexseyevna Reshetovskaya (before and after imprisonment), and later to Natalya Dmitriyevna Solzhenitsyn, the latter his editor, who shared with him three sons and a fourth from a previous marriage.

He died from heart failure aged 89.

Remnick D, Reporting: Writings from the New Yorker, NY, Picador, 2007

BBC World Service, “Solzhenitsyn is Buried in Moscow”,, (6.6.08)

Solzhenitsyn A., Autobiography,, (6.6.08)

Picture: Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s