Exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reunited with family

Exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reunited with family

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn awaits reunion with his family after exile from Russia. Publication of The Gulag Archipelago, a detailed history of the Soviet prison system, prompted Russia to exile the 55 year-old author. One of Russia’s most visible and vocal dissidents, Solzhenitsyn once served an 11-year prison term. Solzhenitsyn had previously been prevented by the Soviets from receiving a Nobel Prize for literature, but finally in 1978, he received the award in Switzerland. He died in 2008.

The other Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's anti-Sovietism was heroic and influential, but its other side became clearer upon the Union's collapse.

The death of the literary colossus and anti-Soviet dissident has, quite rightly, been greeted with an outpouring of praise for his principled and brave unmasking of the horrors of the Soviet regime. His literary achievements, closely connected with his dissident activities, have also justifiably received much attention.

But there is another side to Solzhenitsyn – one which most obituaries have mentioned only in passing, if at all. Solzhenitsyn's analysis of Soviet communism was based on the notion that the Bolsheviks imposed a totalitarian system on Russia that had no basis in Russian history or character. He laid the blame on Marx and Engels and the Bolsheviks.

Russian culture, he argued, and particularly that of the Russian Orthodox Church, was suppressed in favour of atheist Soviet culture. Persona non grata in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn lived in exile in the US from 1974, but found western culture equally to his distaste.

His historical writing is imbued with a hankering after an idealized Tsarist era when, seemingly, everything was rosy. He sought refuge in a dreamy past, where, he believed, a united Slavic state (the Russian empire) built on Orthodox foundations had provided an ideological alternative to western individualistic liberalism.

The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Solzhenitsyn hoped, as he wrote in a Russian newspaper at the time, would lead to the creation of a united Slavic state encompassing Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in which this alternative culture would flourish.

On returning to Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn opposed the excesses that went with the introduction of capitalism in Russia during the 1990s. In addition, he vociferously opposed Ukrainian independence. But the rise of Putin and the resurgence of nationalism, and the notion of Russia as "unique" and "different" from western liberal culture, gave new currency to his views. Recently, he claimed in an article in a pro-Kremlin newspaper, which was reprinted widely in the west, that to call the 1932-33 Holodomor genocide in Ukraine was a "loopy fable" made up by Ukrainian nationalists and picked up on by anti-Russian westerners. This article came at the same time as the State Duma's ruling to the same effect.

His article contained no serious historical analysis. Holodomor, in fact, coincided with an attack on Ukrainian culture and nationalism, which were considered a threat by Soviet leaders in Moscow. They were frightened of the Ukrainian national movement, terrified of many in the country's desire for independence, and acted to bring it into line. "If we lose Ukraine," Lenin had said, "we lose our head." They, like Solzhenitsyn, considered Ukraine a part of their empire.

The parallels with contemporary Russian leaders' attitudes are striking, and Solzhenitsyn's pan-Slavism, alongside his powerful dissident credentials, made him an ideal ally for those who continue to seek to restrict Ukrainian independence. Ironically – disturbingly, in fact – the self-same unmasker of Stalinist terror with its sacrifice of human lives to a future ideal exhibited a desire to ignore people's desires (Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1991) in favour of an equally fictitious ideal.

Solzhenitsyn's importance as the writer who stripped bare the Soviet regime to reveal its true essence cannot be underestimated. His writings inspired people throughout the Soviet Union and the world with their unflinching revelations. But his credentials as a historian are dubious to say the least, and the fantastical, backward-looking political idealism that led him to support Putin's project is a dangerous relic. Like many of those disillusioned with western liberalism, in Russia and the west, he fancied that "Putin's path" provided an alternative. The reality of this "alternative", involving, for example, the pilfering of resources by Kremlin-backed "businessmen" and the silencing of the media by censorship and killing, is less than promising.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, (born Dec. 11, 1918, Kislovodsk, Russia—died Aug. 3, 2008, Troitse-Lykovo, near Moscow), Russian novelist and historian, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.

Solzhenitsyn was born into a family of Cossack intellectuals and brought up primarily by his mother (his father was killed in an accident before his birth). He attended the University of Rostov-na-Donu, graduating in mathematics, and took correspondence courses in literature at Moscow State University. He fought in World War II, achieving the rank of captain of artillery in 1945, however, he was arrested for writing a letter in which he criticized Joseph Stalin and spent eight years in prisons and labour camps, after which he spent three more years in enforced exile. Rehabilitated in 1956, he was allowed to settle in Ryazan, in central Russia, where he became a mathematics teacher and began to write.

Encouraged by the loosening of government restraints on cultural life that was a hallmark of the de-Stalinizing policies of the early 1960s, Solzhenitsyn submitted his short novel Odin den iz zhizni Ivana Denisovicha (1962 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) to the leading Soviet literary periodical Novy Mir (“New World”). The novel quickly appeared in that journal’s pages and met with immediate popularity, Solzhenitsyn becoming an instant celebrity. Ivan Denisovich, based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences, described a typical day in the life of an inmate of a forced-labour camp during the Stalin era. The impression made on the public by the book’s simple, direct language and by the obvious authority with which it treated the daily struggles and material hardships of camp life was magnified by its being one of the first Soviet literary works of the post-Stalin era to directly describe such a life. The book produced a political sensation both abroad and in the Soviet Union, where it inspired a number of other writers to produce accounts of their imprisonment under Stalin’s regime.

Solzhenitsyn’s period of official favour proved to be short-lived, however. Ideological strictures on cultural activity in the Soviet Union tightened with Nikita Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964, and Solzhenitsyn met first with increasing criticism and then with overt harassment from the authorities when he emerged as an eloquent opponent of repressive government policies. After the publication of a collection of his short stories in 1963, he was denied further official publication of his work, and he resorted to circulating them in the form of samizdat (“self-published”) literature—i.e., as illegal literature circulated clandestinely—as well as publishing them abroad.

The following years were marked by the foreign publication of several ambitious novels that secured Solzhenitsyn’s international literary reputation. V kruge pervom (1968 The First Circle) was indirectly based on his years spent working in a prison research institute as a mathematician. The book traces the varying responses of scientists at work on research for the secret police as they must decide whether to cooperate with the authorities and thus remain within the research prison or to refuse their services and be thrust back into the brutal conditions of the labour camps. Rakovy korpus (1968 Cancer Ward) was based on Solzhenitsyn’s hospitalization and successful treatment for terminally diagnosed cancer during his forced exile in Kazakhstan during the mid-1950s. The main character, like Solzhenitsyn himself, was a recently released inmate of the camps.

In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he declined to go to Stockholm to receive the prize for fear he would not be readmitted to the Soviet Union by the government upon his return. His next novel to be published outside the Soviet Union was Avgust 1914 (1971 August 1914), a historical novel treating Germany’s crushing victory over Russia in their initial military engagement of World War I, the Battle of Tannenburg. The novel centred on several characters in the doomed 1st Army of the Russian general A.V. Samsonov and indirectly explored the weaknesses of the tsarist regime that eventually led to its downfall by revolution in 1917.

In December 1973 the first parts of Arkhipelag Gulag ( The Gulag Archipelago) were published in Paris after a copy of the manuscript had been seized in the Soviet Union by the KGB. (Gulag is an acronym formed from the official Soviet designation of its system of prisons and labour camps.) The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn’s attempt to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labour camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia (1917) and that underwent an enormous expansion during the rule of Stalin (1924–53). Various sections of the work describe the arrest, interrogation, conviction, transportation, and imprisonment of the Gulag’s victims as practiced by Soviet authorities over four decades. The work mingles historical exposition and Solzhenitsyn’s own autobiographical accounts with the voluminous personal testimony of other inmates that he collected and committed to memory during his imprisonment.

Upon publication of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn was immediately attacked in the Soviet press. Despite the intense interest in his fate that was shown in the West, he was arrested and charged with treason on Feb. 12, 1974. Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Soviet Union on the following day, and in December he took possession of his Nobel Prize.

In 1975 a documentary novel, Lenin v Tsyurikhe: glavy (Lenin in Zurich: Chapters), appeared, as did Bodalsya telyonok s dubom (The Oak and the Calf), an autobiographical account of literary life in the Soviet Union. The second and third volumes of The Gulag Archipelago were published in 1974–75. Solzhenitsyn traveled to the United States, where he eventually settled on a secluded estate in Cavendish, Vt. The brief The Mortal Danger (1980), translated from an essay Solzhenitsyn wrote for the journal Foreign Affairs, analyzes what he perceived to be the perils of American misconceptions about Russia. In 1983 an extensively expanded and revised version of August 1914 appeared in Russian as the first part of a projected series, Krasnoe koleso (The Red Wheel) other volumes (or uzly [“knots”]) in the series were Oktyabr 1916 (“October 1916”), Mart 1917 (“March 1917”), and Aprel 1917 (“April 1917”).

In presenting alternatives to the Soviet regime, Solzhenitsyn tended to reject Western emphases on democracy and individual freedom and instead favoured the formation of a benevolent authoritarian regime that would draw upon the resources of Russia’s traditional Christian values. The introduction of glasnost (“openness”) in the late 1980s brought renewed access to Solzhenitsyn’s work in the Soviet Union. In 1989 the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir published the first officially approved excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet citizenship was officially restored in 1990.

Solzhenitsyn ended his exile and returned to Russia in 1994. He subsequently made several public appearances and even met privately with Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin. In 1997 Solzhenitsyn established an annual prize for writers contributing to the Russian literary tradition. Installments of his autobiography, Ugodilo zernyshko promezh dvukh zhernovov: ocherki izgnaniia (“The Little Grain Managed to Land Between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile”), were published from 1998 to 2003, and his history of Russian Jews, Dvesti let vmeste, 1795–1995 (“Two Hundred Years Together”), was published in 2001–02. In 2007 Solzhenitsyn was awarded Russia’s prestigious State Prize for his contribution to humanitarian causes.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Levy, Executive Editor.


During a discussion about Cavendish, Vermont’s World War II veterans, third grader Isabelle Gross became very upset when she learned about the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s treatment during the war. She couldn’t understand how a decorated war hero could be removed from the front lines and imprisoned just because he had made comments about the leader of his country. “It isn’t fair,” she kept saying.

Since Isabelle, like many American children, hears adults discussing local and national politics, it was difficult for her to imagine that this was not possible under the Communists and Stalin.

In addition to her concerns about fairness, she wanted to know, “What happened?” “Did they hurt him?” “Is he okay?”

The Writer Who Changed History: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn answers Isabelle’s questions and maps out the life of a writer, whose words literally changed the course of history. His books, such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Gulag Archipelago brought the plight of the Soviet Union people to the world. Along the way, his own life was significantly altered not only by imprisonment and exile from the country he loved but he also received considerable recognition for his literary work winning the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature and other prestigious awards. Maybe most important, he lived long enough to see the Soviet Union collapse and was able to return home to Russia.

While many will consider Solzhenitsyn a hero, he was an agent of change. As such he achieved what he did because of the strong support of friends, family and a network of like-minded people.

The Cavendish Historical Society, not only recognizes the historical significance of its former resident-Solzhenitsyn lived here for almost 18 of the 20 years he was in exile- but also the importance in sharing his story so children will understand how one person can make a difference in literally “writing” a wrong.

We are happy to report that Isabelle is now in the 5th grade, and is pleased that the permanent Solzhenitsyn exhibit will be located in the Old Stone Church across from her home. “We can keep an eye on things,” she said.

When visiting the Cavendish Historical Society Museum’s temporary exhibit, carefully studying the pictures, Isabelle noted a picture of him as a prisoner, she commented, “He wasn’t happy there. He looks very sad.” While we agreed with her, we could also say, “but it worked out and look what he and others were able to do.” She nodded her head and said, “Yes.”

It is with deep gratitude that we thank Isabelle for being the inspiration for this book and to the Solzhenitsyn family for their significant contribution in making the book a reality.

The book and website are made possible in part by the Cavendish Community Fund, Cavendish Historical Society, Vermont Humanities Council and private donations.

All proceeds from the sale of The Writer Who Changed History: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will be used for the Cavendish Historical Society’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn project.

A community writes book about Solzhenitsyn who changed history

CAVENDISH — Cavendish, Vt. is known for having been the home of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize winner who lived there for almost 18 of the 20 years after he was exiled from Russia. The town’s willingness to protect his privacy from outsiders is legendary, and as a recent visitor to the Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) Museum noted, “there is little on the Internet about Solzhenitsyn’s time here, other than people wouldn’t give directions to his house.”

That is about to change, with the publication of “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Writer Who Changed History.” The author, Margo Caulfield, coordinator of the Cavendish Historical Society, explained that this is a community effort that started in the 1970s when a group of volunteers met weekly and clipped articles pertaining to Cavendish. Through their efforts, Solzhenitsyn’s time in Cavendish was well documented and these archives were key in writing the chapter “Life in the West.”

The inspiration for “The Writer Who Changed History” came from former third grader Isabelle Gross. As part of CHS’s outreach to children, Solzhenitsyn’s experience as a captain in the Russian army during World War II was included along with the stories of other Cavendish veterans. Isabelle became extremely upset about how Solzhenitsyn was arrested on the front lines and imprisoned just because he wrote to a friend about his concerns with Stalin. She kept on saying, “This is unfair!” and had many questions, including, “Was he okay?” “Did they hurt him?” By seeing pictures of Solzhenitsyn living in Cavendish, his children and grandchildren, her concerns were eased. It became clear that having a book might be a better way for Isabelle and other students to understand that Solzhenitsyn’s war experience was literally just one chapter in a very amazing life.

The Cavendish Community Fund provided funding for editing, while the Vermont Humanities Council gave CHS a grant to develop the book’s companion website, Cavendish resident Katie Hamlin is the webmaster for the site, which includes a study guide and curriculum that teachers and book groups can use. Finally, private donations helped with other costs.

Caulfield stated, “There were three things I thought were important. The book needed lots and lots of photographs that on their own could tell the story.” Thanks to the generosity of the Solzhenitsyn family, who provided the majority of the book’s photographs, some of these pictures, until now, have not been seen in the West.

Equally important was the look of the book. “It needs vibrancy and color. We don’t want kids turned off because it appears dark,” Caulfield said. Another Cavendish resident, Julia Gignoux, was able to provide the right mix. Responsible for the layout and design, Gignoux made “The Writer Who Changed History” come alive, resulting in a final product that is appealing to all ages.

The third element was the inclusion of Solzhenitsyn’s writing. “When you mention his name, people immediately think of ‘Gulag Archipelago,’ “she said, “but his body of work is vast and includes plays, poems and so much more. As much as possible I thought it important to rely on these resources so that Solzhenitsyn gets to tell his own story but at a level children will understand.” “The Writer Who Changed History” includes excerpts from speeches and interviews as well as text from his books.

Most important are the people of Cavendish. Their cooperation and willingness to protect Solzhenitsyn from the prying eyes of the public made it possible for him to complete “The Red Wheel.” That same Vermont spirit brought many locals together to make “The Writer Who Changed “ possible.

The book is self-published by CHS and is available for purchase locally at the Cavendish town office (37 High St.) Minibees (1990 Main St., formerly the Cavendish General Store) and the CHS Museum, which is right next to Minibees.

Questions and Discussion Points

As the book was being written, those involved in the process were asked to quantify what they wanted children to learn from reading this biography. Below are broad topics, which can be explored any time during the reading of the book. They can be introduced before students begin reading, as a guide for what to look for. Some lend themselves to specific chapters and all are useful in leading a discussion after completing the book.

1. The pen is mightier than the sword, One of the greatest advances in civilization came about once the art of writing was invented. Words can make us laugh or cry and entertain, inform or warn us. How did Solzhenitsyn use his writing to create change? Can the pen encourage the use of the sword? Is money more powerful than sword or pen?

2. In today’s world how can we resist evil actively, not just passively? Is it enough to be concerned about what’s happing in our community/country or should you be trying to help people in other parts of the world?

3. Resiliency was key to Solzhenitsyn’s life. He survived horrific conditions, such as the Gulag, exile and cancer while many others did not. Using the following characteristics of resilient people, discuss how Solzhenitsyn met adversity and was able to thrive. Are there other characteristics, not on this list that he exhibited that led to his survival?
- Flexible- Able to face challenges
- Take positive lessons from negative experiences
- Take action-they work on solving the problem
- Stay connected with family, friends and supporters
- Have outlets to relieve tension and stress by doing such things as writing in a journal, drawing, meditating, talking with a close friend
- Have good habits such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep
- Believe in yourself
- Laughter
- Have a positive outlook

4. Solzhenitsyn was concerned about the increasing focus of western culture on the value of money and material goods versus the intrinsic value of life. What is it about human life that makes it valuable? Is it of more value than other forms of life?

Review of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Between Two Millstones, Book 2: Exile in America, 1978-1994

And yet, the cumulative pullulation of this Host achieved something the entire Soviet Machine had been unable to do: to present me to the world as the acting standard-bearer of chimerical regiments, a vitriolic fanatic, and a ruthless tyrant. And no doubt the impression will long remain. (BTMB2, 106)

Many—perhaps most—of Solzhenitsyn’s critics viewed him as an arch-reactionary, a nineteenth-century mind in the twentieth. But in his turn away from Western universalism to nativism and traditional values, in his revolt against liberal condescension, he appears to have foreseen the twenty-first. 1 Kotkin, Stephen. “Untethered,” Times Literary Supplement, December 7, 2018 (No. 6036), p. 5. Hereafter referred to in the text.

For some years in the 1960s and 1970s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn represented, in the West, resistance to a seemingly monolithic enemy of freedom. His “furiously righteous” 2 Pinkham, Sophie. “Living by Lies,” The New York Review of Books, Vol. LXVII, No. 13, August 20, 2020, p. 2 voice, among only a handful of others that included Andrei Sakharov (the two often clashed), exposed horrific wrongs and state-sanctioned systemic brutality. After publication of The Gulag Archipelago, in the winter of 1974 the USSR deported him to Germany, and eventually he and his family (second wife, children, mother-in-law) reunited in Switzerland. Expulsion did not mean ease of all pressures. Readers can well imagine not only what it would mean to be forced from your homeland (even a harsh one) and cut off from friends and supporters as well as sudden exposure to the foreign culture and sensibilities of, in this instance, Western Europe. The first years in this new chapter of Solzhenitsyn’s life were filled with misunderstandings and positive encounters, and this emotional, psychological, and cultural yo-yoing, along with much about his writing and the search for a safe new home, are subjects addressed in Between Two Millstones, Book 1: Sketches of Exile, 1974-1978 (2018) (reviewed here).

As the years passed, much changed in how Solzhenitsyn came to be regarded and treated. There are different reasons for this. His Harvard Address of 1978 upset many who thought his criticism of (“bitter truth” 3 Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. “Harvard Address,” The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947—2005, eds. Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), p. 562. about, in his words) the United States unwarranted and overly moralistic, disrespectful and chiding. Add to this public relations disaster the machinations of the USSR government as it sought to wound him (as it earlier sought to kill him) through attacks on his character, combined with his reluctance to respond to media demands for comments on world affairs, and it’s not hard to see how there were always going to be problems first with the USSR (the cancerous entity that engulfed Russia) and, second, with Europe/North America, the millstones of the title.

In the last few years, patient readers of Solzhenitsyn’s work in English (as well as, I suppose, diehard critics) have benefited from (or been bothered or distressed by) the appearance of two of his later novels from The Red Wheel saga and two volumes of autobiography, all issued by the same press, a significant investment in a publishing project that ensures stability of appearance and quality of translation. The novels are the first two volumes of March 1917 and their colossal disinterring of the records of the Russian Revolution contribute to a historical understanding of that momentous event and a renewed appreciation for Solzhenitsyn’s literary skills.

The memoirs provide something else. There are several major threads running through this volume, too many for one review to describe, but a few topics can be highlighted: political attacks waged on Solzhenitsyn’s character and work charges of anti-Semitism his work on behalf of writers and dissidents in the USSR who were under various types of pressure his agreements and clashes with Sakharov resistance to his time and energy being claimed by people, organizations, and governments a warm-hearted view of domestic life, especially the growth of his three sons and a deep acknowledgement of the essential and co-equal role played by his second wife, Natasha (“Alya”), in everything from household tasks to working alongside Solzhenitsyn to further projects of his, theirs, and others.

There are three parts to Between Two Millstones: Book 2: Exile in America, 1978-1994: Part Two (1978-1982), Part Three (1982-1987), and Part Four (1987-1994), followed by Appendices (letters to various public figures), Notes to the English Translation, Index of Selected Names, and a General Index. There is, of course, a modicum of self-congratulation, and many observances of major and minor mistakes made along the way. We are shown the embattled mindset of a dedicated writer-activist who often quotes liberally from his allies and antagonists, in part to help shore up Solzhenitsyn’s arguments and in part so he can attempt to dismantle their claims. At these points, we’re given the chance to disagree and to take the side, if we wish, of those who are hostile toward or perplexed by Solzhenitsyn’s positions and, at times, his silence: “How they’ve longed all these years for me to shut up. And I have—but now it’s my silence that they can’t bear.” Evidence is presented of how miscalculated words, plain lies, distortions, and squabbles with fellow Russians (Third Wave emigrants in particular, that is, those who left the USSR after the Second World War writers like Andrei Sinyavsky who said that “Solzhenitsyn is a monarchist, a totalitarian, an anti-Semite, an heir to Stalin’s way of thinking, and a theocrat” people who remained in the USSR and did the state’s bidding by launching hollow attacks and his ex-wife), media representatives, politicians, and Soviet, Russian, and Western commentators inflicted damage on Solzhenitsyn from within as well as from without, no matter that they, at times, needed to happen. “Indeed, over the five decades he spent in the public eye Solzhenitsyn wrote and said plenty of things that were controversial, to use that anodyne word,” Richard Tempest states, continuing: “If Tolstoy was magnificently territorial, railing against artists and heroes who were commensurate to himself on the scale of genius…, Solzhenitsyn, that dedicated asker of questions, was critical or dismissive about many of the values privileged by the consensual discourses of our age.” 4 Tempest, Richard. Overwriting Chaos: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Fictive Worlds (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2019), p. 59. Hereafter referred to in the text. Solzhenitsyn did not have, nor did he want to have, PR chops. His self-isolation in Vermont could be viewed with suspicion (except for those, largely, who also lived in the same community), his intransigence as self-pride, and his choice of political friends as questionable.

As an example of the latter, there is Solzhenitsyn’s 1982 letter to then-President Ronald Reagan rejecting a half-hearted invitation, an invitation heard in fuller detail first via the press, from functionaries within the White House to “a luncheon for ‘Soviet dissidents.’” “But a writer and an artist belongs neither to the first group nor to the second.” This letter—and letters were often opportunities to defend a position and expose the weakness of another’s—illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s two-sided approach. He rejects attendance at such a gathering with an asperity that makes his words stick like burrs and draws precise lines between objects. Clear and admirable, and a rejoinder to those who at that time, before, and after, considered Solzhenitsyn a threat, a theological wolf in the West waiting to return to Russia with diktats and Orthodox piety.

Yet the letter opens with these words: “I admire many aspects of your activity, rejoice because the United States at last has a president such as you, and unceasingly thank God that you were not killed by the villainous bullets.” Leaving aside the last phrase, which perhaps comes from a desire to not see anyone harmed, this is such a severe misreading of an influential and damaging politician as to call into doubt Solzhenitsyn’s nous when it came to public United Statesers. Yet this is not the entire picture, for he is of the same mind as Sakharov in regarding Reagan’s “space shield” the equal in lethality as “the neutron bomb.” Then there is his liking for Margaret Thatcher: “Far from standing on ceremony, I kissed Thatcher’s hand. Rarely has a woman’s hand been more deserving”—there is a note mingling self-congratulation with something more unpalatable—“and I felt both deep admiration and liking for this stateswoman.” These are displays of fondness not easily accepted—in the British phrase, they’re sick-making—by those who, at that time and through to today, have had to struggle under or with the inheritance of domestic and international policies or those of a political mind at some other part of the spectrum. (To this Canadian, finding something to respect in Reagan is as equally repugnant as admiring the approach to welfare or criminal punishment, and the support for neoliberalism, of former-President William Clinton.)

One might think Solzhenitsyn would regard Mikhail Gorbachev as an improvement over his predecessors. Thatcher “extolled [his] virtues…Well, who wouldn’t take a shine to him after the eighty-year-old, deaf cripples? And he’d ended the Cold War!” Solzhenitsyn isn’t a fan, put off by the new President’s caution about engaging with and digging around in the past, remarking parenthetically: “But was Gorbachev himself fit for glasnost when he was, at the moment, trying to cover up the Chernobyl contamination?” A rather stupid turn is taken by the media when various publications begin inventing correspondence between Gorbachev and Solzhenitsyn about his returning to the Soviet Union, about contracts to publish his books there, and much more. No world leader comes out well, though a few come out less bad than people might prefer.

Some readers may categorize these memoirs as score-settling, and that’s not unfair or unexpected. In the TLS review quoted at the opening, Kotkin uses the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann that appeared in Lee Congdon’s Solzhenitsyn: The Historical-Spiritual Destinies of Russia and the West (2017): “[Solzhenitsyn] lacks any sense of life’s complexity and any understanding of people…He mistrusts others, is very secretive, and excessively self-assured. In some ways, he is childlike. And yet, none of these defects contradicts his greatness and literary genius” (Kotkin, 5). With variations, these fairly common complaints have been voiced by others (and Schmemann was a friend) and can be seen as representative. Instead of arguing away those potentially accurate judgments, I try to imagine what it would have been like to grow up in Revolutionary Russia, then the USSR, to fight in the Second World War and be imprisoned in a camp for criticizing Stalin in a letter, to be punished further by internal exile, to endure cancer, and to write about the Gulag—exposure of which could result in another period of incarceration or execution—without anyone except this or that extremely close and trusted friend knowing, to live and publish anything under a dictatorship, to be expelled from my homeland, and to be the subject of attacks on many levels for decades. While I fail at every stage of this mental exercise to imagine the extent of each trial, I can at least see why one would need to be secretive and how trust would be hard to come by. Are we to suppose that our life experiences are the norm that others must use as a measuring mark? As for self-assured, some artists are like that or need to feel that way, so it’s hardly a distinguishing characteristic. Who would stand up for Solzhenitsyn, inside and outside the Soviet Union (or Russia), if he didn’t? The fake interviews or remarks attributed to him, repeated in this volume (and its predecessor), and the warped perceptions of his views required battling. As well, there were struggles with the political arms of his former country, and there were fights to get aid to those inside the Soviet Union who needed it.

Pick almost any page and you’ll see a vigorous contest or attack. (The exceptions would be when Solzhenitsyn travels to Japan and South Korea, where the prose droops. It’s hard for him to mount a spirited attack on the liberal amount of seafood consumed in both places that doesn’t come off as provincial and patronizing of the cultures of other places.) One might reasonably wonder: Does he have to be so antagonistic? Is it others, or, really, him? Then I came across this passage from a recent nonfiction work:

But there was also a sorrow and a weight to the place [Moscow] the city had been the epicenter of a terrible failed experiment, one that had resulted in great tragedy for so many, and even if the particulars rarely came up in conversation, this feeling led to what felt like a collective inability to indulge in small talk or the trifling banalities that often lubricate social interactions everywhere else. You show up for tea in Moscow—or anywhere in Russia, really—and within minutes you’re diving into questions of history, love, fate, power, art. That’s not to say life couldn’t be fun, or hilarious, but it was fundamentally treated with consequence. 5 Baehr, Peter. “Hong Kong’s Battle against Communism: And how the Hong Kong protests of 2019 differed from those in America in 2020,” Claremont Review of Books, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Winter 2021 (page numbers unknown at time of writing).

Perhaps the somberness of Between Two Millstones reflects the view that life and the choices in it are essential and serious, and need to be discussed and talked out, or written about, at length. The attacks Solzhenitsyn fends off don’t diminish once the USSR’s old guard are replaced by Gorbachev, nor does his moral outrage decline, especially when faced with Boris Yeltsin’s leadership and the degradation it participated in, allowed, and encouraged—“the ills of today’s Russia (of which he was the main culprit).” Here is a December 1993 letter to Yeltsin:

I, too, hold out hope in our people’s strength of spirit. But it pains me to see the terrible fall into poverty of the majority of our populace, a privatization that benefits the chosen few, the continuing shameless pilfering of the national wealth, the thorough venality of the government apparatus, and the impunity of criminal gangs. In no way does it appear that any break in this circle of misfortunes is forthcoming—unless we fearlessly and selflessly start to tackle these festering wounds, which are getting the better of us.

Today, maybe those words are applicable to more than one country.

Paramount above every dispute, interview, or article, and requiring the utmost security and peace and quiet, is the key goal in Solzhenitsyn’s artistic life—completing The Red Wheel, that monumental series of novels that began as an idea in 1936. In the first volume of BTM, we read how the archive Solzhenitsyn had built up in the USSR, and essential to writing this work, was secretly removed from there after his expulsion. Once in the West, he had free access to large deposits of historical material that retained the human element the Soviet Union had worked to destroy:

And I could receive from libraries any information source I needed. Actually, even before this, during the first hustle and bustle in Zurich, old Russian émigrés were sending—even without me asking—all the books that were indispensable. I’d put them into my library before I found out what books I did actually need—and it turned out I already had nearly all of them. But the best repository for the history of the Revolution was the Hoover Institution, where both the murder of Stolypin (that enigma had been an obsession since my youth) and the whole enormous edifice of March emerged into view from those old newspapers. And the Hoover was always inviting me to come and do some more work there, and sending photocopies of materials by the hundredweight. And thanks to the endeavors of Elena Pashina an invaluable gift was added—microfilm copies of all the Petersburg papers from the time of the Revolution.

But on top of that, how many recollections were sent me by old survivors of the Revolution. . . .Verging on their nineties, strength wasted, vision now poor, they used what were, in some cases, the last words they’d ever write to respond to my appeal. Some told their whole life story, others—singular events of the Revolution that I’d never have been able to find elsewhere, their own recollections or those of relatives now dead, memories otherwise doomed to die with them. There are already over three hundred of them—and they are still arriving. It was Alya who would first take receipt of this avalanche (when ever did she find the time?), and both answer the elderly authors and look through their manuscripts, reading and picking out for me the fragments that might be of immediate use. But my first job would be to select witness accounts of the Gulag for the final edition of Archipelago—adding another thirty or so to the Soviet accounts we already had. Finally, starting in autumn 1980, I could sit down to work on the revolutionary memoirs alone. That dying generation of émigrés had breathed out their final words to me, sending me a great surge of help. The link between epochs, ripped apart by bloody Bolshevik hands, had been miraculously, unexpectedly put back together as the last possible moment was ebbing away.

The pages spent discussing The Red Wheel’s aesthetics and objectives, as well as the labour behind it, are likely to be identifiable and fascinating to many writers. Always present is the struggle to shape the immense number of ideas, real-life personages, and incidents into a cogent narrative while resisting demands from the outside world:

Fortunately, fate has decreed that, while following my basic inclination, I also have to remain silent to take The Red Wheel on further. These many years of silence, of inaction, of less action—even if I’d tried I couldn’t have planned it better. It’s also the best position tactically, given the current distribution of forces: for I am almost alone, but my adversaries are legion.

I’ve plunged into The Red Wheel and I’m up to my ears in it: all my time is filled with it, except when I sleep (and even at night I’m woken by ideas, which I note down). I stay up late reading the old men’s memoirs and am already nearing the end of a complete read-through of what they’ve sent. Over their many pages, the writing sometimes shaky, scratchy now, my heart gives a lurch: what spirit, in someone approaching eighty—some of them ninety—years of age, unbroken by sixty years of humiliation and poverty in emigration—and that after their excruciating defeat in the Civil War. Real warrior heroes! And how much priceless material is preserved in their memories, how many episodes they’ve given me, bits and pieces for the “fragments” chapters—without them, where would I have found this? It would all have vanished without trace.

When I had, in the first draft, assembled the material and made sure I had what was needed for the vast mass of the four-volume March—that is, of the February Revolution itself—I went backwards, to August and October, to fine-tune them into their definitive form. This was also no minor task, for over the last four or so years of rummaging through archives and memoirs, how many new depths I’d encountered in the weave of events, and many places demanded more and more work—changing and rewriting. And yes, I do understand that I am overloading the Wheel with detailed historical material—but it is that very material that’s needed for categorical proof and I’d never taken a vow of fidelity to the novel form.

The steadfastness required to finish a novel is often stated but not so often expressed in a way that makes you feel the effort required or that’s as encouraging for one’s own resolve. Reading this volume on that topic one sees, even more than in the first volume, how this series of novels is about ensuring that history is not left to moulder or to be forgotten. I won’t say The Red Wheel is an essential work, as nothing is unless a reader deems it so but it is essential for me.

Solzhenitsyn will always occupy two spheres simultaneously: the moral (granted, it looks more like the political, at times) and the literary, and it’s an open question what side has more influence and is more discussed.

The sociologist Peter Baehr, in a forthcoming review of two books on recent events in Hong Kong, chooses a binary opposition familiar to Solzhenitsyn readers to illuminate Baehr’s position: “It was Maxim Gorky, the Russian writer, who said that the only people worthy of freedom are those willing to fight for it every day. Gorky wasn’t he became an apologist for Stalinism….In his fiction and lectures, Solzhenitsyn shows what life without freedom—of conscience, of expression, of assembly, of movement, of political representation—looks like. It looks like moral death. And yet, in spite of everything, some of the embattled [Honk Kong activists] continue to affirm the virtues of dignity and solidarity.” Baehr concludes: “In 2019 Hongkongers risked life and livelihood for the freedom of their city. Some are now in exile. Others are in prison. Many more await trial and can expect long jail terms. Beyond their names and the crimes for which they will be sentenced, who are all these people, really? They are Solzhenitsyn’s heirs on the South China Sea.” 6 Baehr, Peter. “Hong Kong’s Battle against Communism: And how the Hong Kong protests of 2019 differed from those in America in 2020,” Claremont Review of Books, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Winter 2021 (page numbers unknown at time of writing). In Yaffa’s book on difficult political choices people make in Russia under Vladimir Putin, there is a similar acknowledgement of what Solzhenitsyn represents, a kind of scale of behavioural responses to surviving in that political world: “Most people are neither Stalin nor Solzhenitsyn…” 7 Yaffa, Joshua. Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia (New York: Random House, 2020), pp. 17-18. Hereafter referred to in the text.

On the literary plane, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Solzhenitsyn is not widely read now, and until recently has been more often regarded as a voice of conscience quoted by right-wingers than as a literary person who might inspire current or future writers. With the emergence of new fiction (new, that is, to English readers) and appraisals by Congdon, Tempest, Elisa Kriza (Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Cold War icon, Gulag author, Russian nationalist? [2014]), and October’s critical anthology Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West (eds. David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson), the balance has an opportunity to change. For those who see more in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s works than out-of-fashion views about dusty history presented in what appears to be a traditional novel form, the break in the translation logjam and the consequent flood of words, especially with regards to The Red Wheel “epopee” (Tempest) with its Modernist features, presents much to consider, to examine with new eyes, and to, quite simply, delight in.

1 Kotkin, Stephen. “Untethered,” Times Literary Supplement, December 7, 2018 (No. 6036), p. 5. Hereafter referred to in the text.

2 Pinkham, Sophie. “Living by Lies,” The New York Review of Books, Vol. LXVII, No. 13, August 20, 2020, p. 27.

3 Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. “Harvard Address,” The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947—2005, eds. Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), p. 562.

4 Tempest, Richard. Overwriting Chaos: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Fictive Worlds (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2019), p. 59. Hereafter referred to in the text.

5 Yaffa, Joshua. Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia (New York: Random House, 2020), pp. 17-18. Hereafter referred to in the text.

6 Baehr, Peter. “Hong Kong’s Battle against Communism: And how the Hong Kong protests of 2019 differed from those in America in 2020,” Claremont Review of Books, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Winter 2021 (page numbers unknown at time of writing).

His Writings | 1957-1975

1957, August 25
Hired as a teacher of physics and astronomy at the school № 2 in Ryazan.

1958, April
Undergoes a course of chemotherapy in the Ryazan cancer clinic.

1958, Spring
Cycling trip in the Ryazan region, has the idea of The Gulag Archipelago

1958, July
A trip to Leningrad (collection of materials for the future The Red Wheel).

1959, May 18
In the course of 45 days, wrote a short story, "One Day of a Prisoner," which will become One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

1960, Late Autumn
Takes chemotherapy at home.

1961, December
Signs contract with Novy Mir for "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich".

1962, 15 September
The tale "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is approved by Khrushchev.

1962, November 17
Novy Mir issue containing "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" goes to subscribers. Soon after it is translated and published in the west. He becomes famous in the USSR and throughout the world.

1962, December 23
Pravda prints an excerpt from the story "The Incident at Kochetovka Station."

1963, January 20
Novy Mir publishes the stories "Matryona’s House" and "Incident at Kochetovka Station."

1963, December
Nominated for the Lenin Prize.

Works on Cancer Ward and other works. The political climate in the Soviet Union changes and once again Solzhenitsyn has difficulties getting his writing published. In December 1967, printing is stopped on “Cancer Ward.” No more works by Solzhenitsyn would be published in the USSR until 1990.

1968, Mid-April
Chapters of Cancer Ward are printed in the West.

1968, June 8
A microfilm with The Gulag Archipelago is sent to the West.

1968, August 28
Solzhenitsyn meets Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova, his future wife, who is typing banned books and papers (samizdat).

1968, Autumn
First Circle and Cancer Ward are issued in larger editions in the West.

1969, Winter
Solzhenitsyn is awarded the Prize of French journalists for best foreign book

1969, April
Elected Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

1969, November 4
At a meeting of the Ryazan Writer’s Organization, Solzhenitsyn is expelled from the Union of Writers of the RSFSR.

1970, October 8
The Nobel Committee awards Solzhenitsyn the Prize for Literature for 1970.

1970, November 20
“Decree on deprivation of Solzhenitsyn's Soviet citizenship and his expulsion from the USSR” is adopted.

1970, November
Solzhenitsyn decides not to go to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony.

1970, December 30
Son Yermolai is born.

1971, Winter
Completion of August 1914.

1971, June
In Paris, the Russian edition of “August 1914” is published.

1971, August 9
Sudden illness in Novocherkassk. While standing in a store, KGB agents managed to rub a poison on his skin without his being aware of it. Based on his symptoms, it is thought that the poison was ricin, which is highly toxic and often results in death.

1971, October
Recovery, return to work on October 1916.

1972, March 30
A new draft of decree is compiled, depriving Solzhenitsyn of citizenship and deporting him. Gives interview to The New York Times and Washington Post.

1972, September 23
Son Ignat is born.

1973, Summer
Solzhenitsyn family settles in a rented dacha in Firsanovka where they receive anonymous threatening letters. Writes an article, entitled "Peace and Violence."

1973, August 30
In the middle of the night, State Security seizes copy of The Gulag Archipelago. The holder of the manuscript, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, commits suicide.

1973, End of August
Finishes appeal, "Live Not by Lies!", created in 1972-1973.

1973, September 8
Son Stephan is born.

1973, December 28
In Paris, the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago comes out in Russian.

1974, January 4
The beginning of persecution of Solzhenitsyn in connection with the release of The Gulag Archipelago.

1974, January
Announces the signing over of the world-wide royalties of The Gulag Archipelago to Soviet political prisoners. Finishes article, "Remorse and Self-restraint."

1974, February 1-2
West German Chancellor Willy Brandt stands ready to grant Solzhenitsyn political asylum.

1974, After February 2
Secret negotiations of the KGB with the Germans to expel Solzhenitsyn to Germany.

1974, February 12
Arrested at his apartment and taken to jail in Lefortovo.

1974, February 13
Procedure of expulsion, Solzhenitsyn driven to Sheremetevo Airport and flown to Frankfurt, Germany. In Moscow, the appeal, "Live Not by Lies!" comes out in samizdat.

1974, February 15
Moves to Zurich

1974, March 29
Solzhenitsyn family leave from Moscow for Zurich.

1974, June 24
Solzhenitsyn and his family receive Swiss passports.

1974, 6-13 December
Goes to Sweden to receive his Nobel Prize.

1975, April 28
Flies to Canada in search of place to live.

1975, June 30
Speech in Washington to representatives of U.S. trade unions

1975, July 15
Speech to the U.S. Congress.

1975, October 31
Purchases land with a house in Cavendish (Vermont).

1975, End of December
The French magazine, Puen declares Solzhenitsyn "Man of the Year."


Early years Edit

Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, RSFSR (now in Stavropol Krai, Russia). His mother, Taisiya Zakharovna (née Shcherbak), was of Ukrainian and his father of Russian descent. [10] [11] Her father had risen from humble beginnings to become a wealthy landowner, acquiring a large estate in the Kuban region in the northern foothills of the Caucasus. [12] During World War I, Taisiya went to Moscow to study. While there she met and married Isaakiy Semyonovich Solzhenitsyn, a young officer in the Imperial Russian Army of Cossack origin and fellow native of the Caucasus region. The family background of his parents is vividly brought to life in the opening chapters of August 1914, and in the later Red Wheel novels. [13]

In 1918, Taisiya became pregnant with Aleksandr. On 15 June, shortly after her pregnancy was confirmed, Isaakiy was killed in a hunting accident. Aleksandr was raised by his widowed mother and his aunt in lowly circumstances. His earliest years coincided with the Russian Civil War. By 1930 the family property had been turned into a collective farm. Later, Solzhenitsyn recalled that his mother had fought for survival and that they had to keep his father's background in the old Imperial Army a secret. His educated mother (who never remarried) encouraged his literary and scientific learnings and raised him in the Russian Orthodox faith [14] [15] she died in 1944. [16]

As early as 1936, Solzhenitsyn began developing the characters and concepts for a planned epic work on World War I and the Russian Revolution. This eventually led to the novel August 1914 some of the chapters he wrote then still survive. [ citation needed ] Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics and physics at Rostov State University. At the same time he took correspondence courses from the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History, at this time heavily ideological in scope. As he himself makes clear, he did not question the state ideology or the superiority of the Soviet Union until he spent time in the camps. [17]

World War II Edit

During the war, Solzhenitsyn served as the commander of a sound-ranging battery in the Red Army, [18] was involved in major action at the front, and was twice decorated. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star on 8 July 1944 for sound-ranging two German artillery batteries and adjusting counterbattery fire onto them, resulting in their destruction. [19]

A series of writings published late in his life, including the early uncompleted novel Love the Revolution!, chronicle his wartime experience and growing doubts about the moral foundations of the Soviet regime. [20]

While serving as an artillery officer in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn witnessed war crimes against local German civilians by Soviet military personnel. Of the atrocities, Solzhenitsyn wrote: "You know very well that we've come to Germany to take our revenge" for Nazi atrocities committed in the Soviet Union. [21] The noncombatants and the elderly were robbed of their meager possessions and women and girls were gang-raped. A few years later, in the forced labor camp, he memorized a poem titled "Prussian Nights" about a woman raped to death in East Prussia. In this poem, which describes the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German, [22] the first-person narrator comments on the events with sarcasm and refers to the responsibility of official Soviet writers like Ilya Ehrenburg.

In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote, "There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one's own transgressions, errors, mistakes. After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my Captain's shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: 'So were we any better?'" [23]

Imprisonment Edit

In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by SMERSH for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, [24] about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he called "Khozyain" ("the boss"), and "Balabos" (Yiddish rendering of Hebrew baal ha-bayit for "master of the house"). [25] He also had talks with the same friend about the need for a new organization to replace the Soviet regime. [26] [ clarification needed ]

He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of "founding a hostile organization" under paragraph 11. [27] [28] Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated. On 9 May 1945, it was announced that Germany had surrendered and all of Moscow broke out in celebrations with fireworks and searchlights illuminating the sky to celebrate the victory in the Great Patriotic War. From his cell in the Lubyanka, Solzhenitsyn remembered: "Above the muzzle of our window, and from all the other cells of the Lubyanka, and from all the windows of the Moscow prisons, we too, former prisoners of war and former front-line soldiers, watched the Moscow heavens, patterned with fireworks and crisscrossed with beams of searchlights. There was no rejoicing in our cells and no hugs and no kisses for us. That victory was not ours." [29] On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58 at the time. [30]

The first part of Solzhenitsyn's sentence was served in several work camps the "middle phase", as he later referred to it, was spent in a sharashka (a special scientific research facility run by Ministry of State Security), where he met Lev Kopelev, upon whom he based the character of Lev Rubin in his book The First Circle, published in a self-censored or "distorted" version in the West in 1968 (an English translation of the full version was eventually published by Harper Perennial in October 2009). [31] In 1950, he was sent to a "Special Camp" for political prisoners. During his imprisonment at the camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan, he worked as a miner, bricklayer, and foundry foreman. His experiences at Ekibastuz formed the basis for the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. One of his fellow political prisoners, Ion Moraru, remembers that Solzhenitsyn spent some of his time at Ekibastuz writing. [32] While there Solzhenitsyn had a tumor removed. His cancer was not diagnosed at the time.

In March 1953, after his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was sent to internal exile for life at Birlik, [33] a village in Baidibek District of South Kazakhstan. [34] His undiagnosed cancer spread until, by the end of the year, he was close to death. In 1954, he was permitted to be treated in a hospital in Tashkent, where his tumor went into remission. His experiences there became the basis of his novel Cancer Ward and also found an echo in the short story "The Right Hand." It was during this decade of imprisonment and exile that Solzhenitsyn abandoned Marxism and developed the philosophical and religious positions of his later life, gradually becoming a philosophically-minded Eastern Orthodox Christian as a result of his experience in prison and the camps. [35] [36] [37] He repented for some of his actions as a Red Army captain, and in prison compared himself to the perpetrators of the Gulag. His transformation is described at some length in the fourth part of The Gulag Archipelago ("The Soul and Barbed Wire"). The narrative poem The Trail (written without benefit of pen or paper in prison and camps between 1947 and 1952) and the 28 poems composed in prison, forced-labour camp, and exile also provide crucial material for understanding Solzhenitsyn's intellectual and spiritual odyssey during this period. These "early" works, largely unknown in the West, were published for the first time in Russian in 1999 and excerpted in English in 2006. [38] [39]

Marriages and children Edit

On 7 April 1940, while at the university, Solzhenitsyn married Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaya. [40] They had just over a year of married life before he went into the army, then to the Gulag. They divorced in 1952, a year before his release, because wives of Gulag prisoners faced loss of work or residence permits. After the end of his internal exile, they remarried in 1957, [41] divorcing a second time in 1972.

The following year Solzhenitsyn married his second wife, Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova, a mathematician who had a son from a brief prior marriage. [42] He and Svetlova (born 1939) had three sons: Yermolai (1970), Ignat (1972), and Stepan (1973). [43] Solzhenitsyn's adopted son Dmitri Turin died on 18 March 1994, aged 32, at his home in New York City. [44]

After prison Edit

After Khrushchev's Secret Speech in 1956, Solzhenitsyn was freed from exile and exonerated. Following his return from exile, Solzhenitsyn was, while teaching at a secondary school during the day, spending his nights secretly engaged in writing. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he wrote that "during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known." [45]

In 1960, aged 42, he approached Aleksandr Tvardovsky, a poet and the chief editor of the Novy Mir magazine, with the manuscript of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was published in edited form in 1962, with the explicit approval of Nikita Khrushchev, who defended it at the presidium of the Politburo hearing on whether to allow its publication, and added: "There's a Stalinist in each of you there's even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil." [46] The book quickly sold out and became an instant hit. [47] In the 1960s, while he was publicly known to be writing Cancer Ward, he was simultaneously writing The Gulag Archipelago. During Khrushchev's tenure, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was studied in schools in the Soviet Union, as were three more short works of Solzhenitsyn's, including his short story "Matryona's Home", published in 1963. These would be the last of his works published in the Soviet Union until 1990.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich brought the Soviet system of prison labour to the attention of the West. It caused as much of a sensation in the Soviet Union as it did in the West—not only by its striking realism and candor, but also because it was the first major piece of Soviet literature since the 1920s on a politically charged theme, written by a non-party member, indeed a man who had been to Siberia for "libelous speech" about the leaders, and yet its publication had been officially permitted. In this sense, the publication of Solzhenitsyn's story was an almost unheard of instance of free, unrestrained discussion of politics through literature. However, after Khrushchev had been ousted from power in 1964, the time for such raw exposing works came to an end. [47]

Later years in the Soviet Union Edit

Solzhenitsyn made an unsuccessful attempt, with the help of Tvardovsky, to have his novel Cancer Ward legally published in the Soviet Union. This required the approval of the Union of Writers. Though some there appreciated it, the work was ultimately denied publication unless it was to be revised and cleaned of suspect statements and anti-Soviet insinuations. [48]

After Khrushchev's removal in 1964, the cultural climate again became more repressive. Publishing of Solzhenitsyn's work quickly stopped as a writer, he became a non-person, and, by 1965, the KGB had seized some of his papers, including the manuscript of The First Circle. Meanwhile, Solzhenitsyn continued to secretly and feverishly work on the most well-known of his writings, The Gulag Archipelago. The seizing of his novel manuscript first made him desperate and frightened, but gradually he realized that it had set him free from the pretenses and trappings of being an "officially acclaimed" writer, a status which had become familiar but which was becoming increasingly irrelevant.

After the KGB had confiscated Solzhenitsyn's materials in Moscow, during 1965–67, the preparatory drafts of The Gulag Archipelago were turned into finished typescript in hiding at his friends' homes in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had befriended Arnold Susi, a lawyer and former Estonian Minister of Education in a Lubyanka Prison cell. After completion, Solzhenitsyn's original handwritten script was kept hidden from the KGB in Estonia by Arnold Susi's daughter Heli Susi until the collapse of the Soviet Union. [49] [50]

In 1969, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Union of Writers. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He could not receive the prize personally in Stockholm at that time, since he was afraid he would not be let back into the Soviet Union. Instead, it was suggested he should receive the prize in a special ceremony at the Swedish embassy in Moscow. The Swedish government refused to accept this solution because such a ceremony and the ensuing media coverage might upset the Soviet Union and damage Swedish-Soviet relations. Instead, Solzhenitsyn received his prize at the 1974 ceremony after he had been expelled from the Soviet Union.

The Gulag Archipelago was composed from 1958 to 1967. It was a three-volume, seven-part work on the Soviet prison camp system. The book drew from Solzhenitsyn's experiences and the testimony of 256 [51] former prisoners and Solzhenitsyn's own research into the history of the Russian penal system. It discusses the system's origins from the founding of the Communist regime, with Vladimir Lenin having responsibility, detailing interrogation procedures, prisoner transports, prison camp culture, prisoner uprisings and revolts, and the practice of internal exile. According to Gulag historian Anne Applebaum, The Gulag Archipelago's rich and varied authorial voice, its unique weaving together of personal testimony, philosophical analysis, and historical investigation, and its unrelenting indictment of communist ideology made it one of the most influential books of the 20th century. [52] The Gulag Archipelago has sold over thirty million copies in thirty-five languages.

On 8 August 1971, the KGB allegedly attempted to assassinate Solzhenitsyn using an unknown chemical agent (most likely ricin) with an experimental gel-based delivery method. [53] [54] The attempt left him seriously ill but he survived. [55] [56]

Although The Gulag Archipelago was not published in the Soviet Union, it was extensively criticized by the Party-controlled Soviet press. An editorial in Pravda on 14 January 1974 accused Solzhenitsyn of supporting "Hitlerites" and making "excuses for the crimes of the Vlasovites and Bandera gangs." According to the editorial, Solzhenitsyn was "choking with pathological hatred for the country where he was born and grew up, for the socialist system, and for Soviet people." [57]

During this period, he was sheltered by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who suffered considerably for his support of Solzhenitsyn and was eventually forced into exile himself. [58]

Expulsion from the Soviet Union Edit

In a discussion of its options in dealing with Solzhenitsyn the members of the Politburo considered his arrest and imprisonment and his expulsion to a capitalist country willing to take him. [59] Guided by KGB chief Yury Andropov, and following a statement from West German Chancellor Willy Brandt that Solzhenitsyn could live and work freely in West Germany, it was decided to deport the writer directly to that country. [60]

In the West Edit

On 12 February 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and deported the next day from the Soviet Union to Frankfurt, West Germany and stripped of his Soviet citizenship. [61] The KGB had found the manuscript for the first part of The Gulag Archipelago. US military attaché William Odom managed to smuggle out a large portion of Solzhenitsyn's archive, including the author's membership card for the Writers' Union and his Second World War military citations. Solzhenitsyn paid tribute to Odom's role in his memoir Invisible Allies (1995).

In West Germany, Solzhenitsyn lived in Heinrich Böll's house in Langenbroich [de] . He then moved to Zürich, Switzerland before Stanford University invited him to stay in the United States to "facilitate your work, and to accommodate you and your family". He stayed at the Hoover Tower, part of the Hoover Institution, before moving to Cavendish, Vermont, in 1976. He was given an honorary literary degree from Harvard University in 1978 and on 8 June 1978 he gave a commencement address, condemning, among other things, the press, the lack of spirituality and traditional values, and the anthropocentrism of Western culture. [62]

On 19 September 1974, Yuri Andropov approved a large-scale operation to discredit Solzhenitsyn and his family and cut his communications with Soviet dissidents. The plan was jointly approved by Vladimir Kryuchkov, Philipp Bobkov, and Grigorenko (heads of First, Second and Fifth KGB Directorates). [63] The residencies in Geneva, London, Paris, Rome and other European cities participated in the operation. Among other active measures, at least three StB agents became translators and secretaries of Solzhenitsyn (one of them translated the poem Prussian Nights), keeping the KGB informed regarding all contacts by Solzhenitsyn. [63]

The KGB also sponsored a series of hostile books about Solzhenitsyn, most notably a "memoir published under the name of his first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya, but probably mostly composed by Service", according to historian Christopher Andrew. [63] Andropov also gave an order to create "an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between Pauk [c] and the people around him" by feeding him rumors that the people around him were KGB agents, and deceiving him at every opportunity. Among other things, he continually received envelopes with photographs of car crashes, brain surgery and other disturbing imagery. After the KGB harassment in Zürich, Solzhenitsyn settled in Cavendish, Vermont, reduced communications with others. His influence and moral authority for the West diminished as he became increasingly isolated and critical of Western individualism. KGB and CPSU experts finally concluded that he alienated American listeners by his "reactionary views and intransigent criticism of the US way of life", so no further active measures would be required. [63]

Over the next 17 years, Solzhenitsyn worked on his dramatized history of the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Red Wheel. By 1992, four sections had been completed and he had also written several shorter works.

Despite spending almost two decades in the United States, Solzhenitsyn did not become fluent in spoken English. He had, however, been reading English-language literature since his teens, encouraged by his mother. [ citation needed ] More importantly, he resented the idea of becoming a media star and of tempering his ideas or ways of talking in order to suit television. Solzhenitsyn's warnings about the dangers of Communist aggression and the weakening of the moral fiber of the West were generally well received in Western conservative circles (e.g. Ford administration staffers Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld advocated on Solzhenitsyn's behalf for him to speak directly to President Gerald Ford about the Soviet threat), [64] prior to and alongside the tougher foreign policy pursued by US President Ronald Reagan. At the same time, liberals and secularists became increasingly critical of what they perceived as his reactionary preference for Russian nationalism and the Russian Orthodox religion.

Solzhenitsyn also harshly criticised what he saw as the ugliness and spiritual vapidity of the dominant pop culture of the modern West, including television and much of popular music: ". the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits. by TV stupor and by intolerable music." Despite his criticism of the "weakness" of the West, Solzhenitsyn always made clear that he admired the political liberty which was one of the enduring strengths of Western democratic societies. In a major speech delivered to the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein on 14 September 1993, Solzhenitsyn implored the West not to "lose sight of its own values, its historically unique stability of civic life under the rule of law—a hard-won stability which grants independence and space to every private citizen." [65]

In a series of writings, speeches, and interviews after his return to his native Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn spoke about his admiration for the local self-government he had witnessed first hand in Switzerland and New England. [66] [67] He "praised 'the sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy, in which the local population solves most of its problems on its own, not waiting for the decisions of higher authorities.'" [68] Solzhenitsyn's patriotism was inward-looking. He called for Russia to "renounce all mad fantasies of foreign conquest and begin the peaceful long, long long period of recuperation," as he put it in a 1979 BBC interview with Latvian-born BBC journalist Janis Sapiets. [69]

Return to Russia Edit

In 1990, his Soviet citizenship was restored, and, in 1994, he returned to Russia with his wife, Natalia, who had become a United States citizen. Their sons stayed behind in the United States (later, his eldest son Yermolai returned to Russia). From then until his death, he lived with his wife in a dacha in Troitse-Lykovo in west Moscow between the dachas once occupied by Soviet leaders Mikhail Suslov and Konstantin Chernenko. A staunch believer in traditional Russian culture, Solzhenitsyn expressed his disillusionment with post-Soviet Russia in works such as Rebuilding Russia, and called for the establishment of a strong presidential republic balanced by vigorous institutions of local self-government. The latter would remain his major political theme. [70] Solzhenitsyn also published eight two-part short stories, a series of contemplative "miniatures" or prose poems, and a literary memoir on his years in the West The Grain Between the Millstones, translated and released as two works by the University of Notre Dame as part of the Kennan Institute's Solzhenitsyn Initiative. [71] The first, Between Two Millstones, Book 1: Sketches of Exile (1974-1978), was translated by Peter Constantine and published in October 2018, the second, Book 2: Exile in America (1978-1994) translated by Clare Kitson and Melanie Moore and published in October 2020. [72]

Once back in Russia Solzhenitsyn hosted a television talk show program. [73] Its eventual format was Solzhenitsyn delivering a 15-minute monologue twice a month it was discontinued in 1995. [74] Solzhenitsyn became a supporter of Vladimir Putin, who said he shared Solzhenitsyn's critical view towards the Russian Revolution. [75]

All of Solzhenitsyn's sons became US citizens. [76] One, Ignat, is a pianist and conductor. [77] Another Solzhenitsyn son, Yermolai, works for the Moscow office of McKinsey & Company, a management consultancy firm, where he is a senior partner. [78]

Death Edit

Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure near Moscow on 3 August 2008, at the age of 89. [61] [79] A burial service was held at Donskoy Monastery, Moscow, on 6 August 2008. [80] He was buried the same day in the monastery, in a spot he had chosen. [81] Russian and world leaders paid tribute to Solzhenitsyn following his death. [82]

On Christianity, Tsarism, and Russian nationalism Edit

According to William Harrison, Solzhenitsyn was an "arch-reactionary," who argued that the Soviet State "suppressed" traditional Russian and Ukrainian culture, called for the creation of a united Slavic state encompassing Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and who was a fierce opponent of Ukrainian independence. Harrison also alleged that Solzhenitsyn held Pan-Slavist and monarchist views. According to Harrison, "His historical writing is imbued with a hankering after an idealized Tsarist era when, seemingly, everything was rosy. He sought refuge in a dreamy past, where, he believed, a united Slavic state (the Russian empire) built on Orthodox foundations had provided an ideological alternative to western individualistic liberalism." [83]

In his writings and speeches, Solzhenitsyn, however, has sharply criticized the policies of every Tsar from the House of Romanov. A persistent theme in his criticism has been that the Romanovs preferred, like Nicholas I during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, to intervene in the internal affairs of foreign countries while governing badly at home.

Solzhenitsyn has also repeatedly denounced Tsar Alexis of Russia and Patriarch Nikon of Moscow for causing the Great Schism of 1666, which Solzhenitsyn says both divided and weakened the Russian Orthodox Church at a time when unity was desperately needed. Solzhenitsyn also attacked both the Tsar and the Patriarch for using excommunication, Siberian Exile, imprisonment torture, and even burning at the stake against the Old Believers, who rejected the liturgical changes which caused the Schism.

Solzhenitsyn has also argued that the Dechristianization of Russian culture, which he considers most responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution, began in 1666, became much worse during the Reign of Tsar Peter the Great, and accelerated into an epidemic during The Enlightenment, the Romantic era, and the Silver Age.

Expanding upon this theme, Solzhenitsyn once declared, "Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: 'Men have forgotten God that's why all this has happened. Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God that's why all this has happened.'" [84]

In an interview with Joseph Pearce, however, Solzhenitsyn commented, "[The Old Believers were] treated amazingly unjustly, because some very insignificant, trifling differences in ritual which were promoted with poor judgment and without much sound basis. Because of these small differences, they were persecuted in very many cruel ways, they were suppressed, they were exiled. From the perspective of historical justice, I sympathise with them and I am on their side, but this in no way ties in with what I have just said about the fact that religion in order to keep up with mankind must adapt it's forms toward modern culture. In other words, do I agree with the Old Believers that religion should freeze and not move at all? Not at all!" [85]

When asked by Pearce for his opinions about the division within the Roman Catholic Church over the Second Vatican Council and the Mass of Paul VI, Solzhenitsyn replied, "A question peculiar to the Russian Orthodox Church is, should we continue to use Old Church Slavonic, or should we start to introduce more of the contemporary Russian language into the service? I understand the fears of both those in the Orthodox and in the Catholic Church, the wariness, the hesitation, and the fear that this is lowering the Church to the modern condition, the modern surroundings. I understand this, but alas, I fear that if religion does not allow itself to change, it will be impossible to return the world to religion because the world is incapable on its own of rising as high as the old demands of religion. Religion needs to come and meet it somewhat." [86]

Surprised to hear Solzhenitsyn, "so often perceived as an arch-traditionalist, apparently coming down on the side of the reformers", Pearce then asked Solzhenitsyn what he thought of the division caused within the Anglican Communion by the decision to ordain female priests. [87]

Solzhenitsyn replied, "Certainly there are many firm boundaries that should not be changed. When I speak of some sort of correlation between the cultural norms of the present, it is really only a small part of the whole thing." Solzhenitsyn then added, "Certainly, I do not believe that women priests is the way to go!" [88]

On Russia and the Jews Edit

OGPU officer Naftaly Frenkel, whom Solzhenitsyn identified as "a Turkish Jew born in Constantinople", is represented as having played a major role in the organisation of work in the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn claimed that Frenkel was the "nerve of the Archipelago". [89]

In his 1974 essay "Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations", Solzhenitsyn urged "Russian Gentiles" and Jews alike to take moral responsibility for the "renegades" from both communities who enthusiastically embraced Atheism and Marxism–Leninism and participated in the Red Terror and many other acts of torture and mass murder following the October Revolution. Solzhenitsyn argued that both Russian Gentiles and Jews should be prepared to treat the atrocities committed by Jewish and Gentile Bolsheviks as though they were the acts of their own family members, before their consciences and before God. Solzhenitsyn said that if we deny all responsibility for the crimes of our national kin, "the very concept of a people loses all meaning." [90]

In a 13 November 1985 review of Solzhenitsyn's novel August 1914 in The New York Times, Jewish American historian Richard Pipes wrote: "Every culture has its own brand of anti-Semitism. In Solzhenitsyn's case, it's not racial. It has nothing to do with blood. He's certainly not a racist the question is fundamentally religious and cultural. He bears some resemblance to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was a fervent Christian and patriot and a rabid anti-Semite. Solzhenitsyn is unquestionably in the grip of the Russian extreme right's view of the Revolution, which is that it was the doing of the Jews". [91] [92]

Award-winning Jewish novelist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, however, disagreed and wrote that Solzhenitsyn was "too intelligent, too honest, too courageous, too great a writer" to be an anti-Semite. [93]

In his 1998 book Russia in Collapse, Solzhenitsyn criticized the Russian far-right's obsession with anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories. [94]

In 2001, Solzhenitsyn published a two-volume work on the history of Russian-Jewish relations (Two Hundred Years Together 2001, 2002). [95] The book triggered renewed accusations of anti-Semitism. [96] [97] [98] [99] Similarities between Two Hundred Years Together and an anti-Semitic essay titled "Jews in the USSR and in the Future Russia", attributed to Solzhenitsyn, have led to the inference that he stands behind the anti-Semitic passages. Solzhenitsyn himself explained that the essay consists of manuscripts stolen from him by the KGB, and then carefully edited to appear anti-Semitic, before being published, forty years before, without his consent. [99] [100] According to the historian Semyon Reznik, textological analyses have proven Solzhenitsyn's authorship. [101]

Criticism of communism Edit

Solzhenitsyn emphasized the significantly more oppressive character of the Soviet police state, in comparison to the Russian Empire of the House of Romanov. He asserted that Imperial Russia did not censor literature or the media to the extreme style of the Soviet Glavlit, [102] that political prisoners typically were not forced into labor camps, [103] and that the number of political prisoners and exiles was only one ten-thousandth of the numbers of prisoners and Exiles following the Bolshevik Revolution. He noted that the Tsar's secret police, the Okhrana, was only present in the three largest cities, and not at all in the Imperial Russian Army. [ citation needed ]

Shortly before his return to Russia, Solzhenitsyn delivered a speech in Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Vendée Uprising. During his speech, Solzhenitsyn compared Lenin's Bolsheviks with the Jacobin Party during the French Revolution. He also compared the Vendean rebels with the Russian, Ukrainian, and Cossack peasants who rebelled against the Bolsheviks, saying that both were destroyed mercilessly by revolutionary despotism. However, he commented that, while the French Reign of Terror ended with the toppling of the Jacobins and the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, its Soviet equivalent continued to accelerate until the Khrushchev thaw of the 1950s. [104]

According to Solzhenitsyn, Russians were not the ruling nation in the Soviet Union. He believed that all the traditional culture of all ethnic groups were equally oppressed in favor of an atheism and Marxist–Leninism. Russian culture was even more repressed than any other culture in the Soviet Union, since the regime was more afraid of ethnic uprisings among Russian Christians than among any other ethnicity. Therefore, Solzhenitsyn argued, Russian nationalism and the Orthodox Church should not be regarded as a threat by the West but rather as allies. [105]

In "Rebuilding Russia", an essay first published in 1990 in Komsomolskaya Pravda Solzhenitsyn urged the Soviet Union to grant independence to all the non-Slav republics, which he claimed were sapping the Russian nation and he called for the creation of a new Slavic state bringing together Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Kazakhstan that he considered to be Russified. [10]

On post-Soviet Russia Edit

In some of his later political writings, such as Rebuilding Russia (1990) and Russia in Collapse (1998), Solzhenitsyn criticized the oligarchic excesses of the new Russian democracy, while opposing any nostalgia for Soviet Communism. He defended moderate and self-critical patriotism (as opposed to extreme nationalism). He also urged for local self-government similar to what he had seen in New England town meetings and in the Cantons of Switzerland. He also expressed concern for the fate of the 25 million ethnic Russians in the "near abroad" of the former Soviet Union.

In an interview with Joseph Pearce, Solzhenitsyn was asked whether he felt that the socioeconomic theories of E.F. Schumacher were, "the key to society rediscovering it's sanity". He replied, "I do believe that it would be the key, but I don't think this will happen, because people succumb to fashion, and they suffer from inertia and it is hard to them to come round to a different point of view." [88]

Solzhenitsyn refused to accept Russia's highest honor, the Order of St. Andrew, in 1998. Solzhenitsyn later said: "In 1998, it was the country's low point, with people in misery . Yeltsin decreed I be honored the highest state order. I replied that I was unable to receive an award from a government that had led Russia into such dire straits." [106] In a 2003 interview with Joseph Pearce, Solzhenitsyn said: "We are exiting from communism in a most unfortunate and awkward way. It would have been difficult to design a path out of communism worse than the one that has been followed." [107]

In a 2007 interview with Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn expressed disappointment that the "conflation of 'Soviet' and 'Russian'", against which he spoke so often in the 1970s, had not passed away in the West, in the ex-socialist countries, or in the former Soviet republics. He commented, "The elder political generation in communist countries is not ready for repentance, while the new generation is only too happy to voice grievances and level accusations, with present-day Moscow [as] a convenient target. They behave as if they heroically liberated themselves and lead a new life now, while Moscow has remained communist. Nevertheless, I dare [to] hope that this unhealthy phase will soon be over, that all the peoples who have lived through communism will understand that communism is to blame for the bitter pages of their history." [106]

On 20 September 2000, Solzhenitsyn met newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin. [108] In 2008, Solzhenitsyn praised Putin, saying Russia was rediscovering what it meant to be Russian. Solzhenitsyn also praised the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev as a "nice young man" who was capable of taking on the challenges Russia was facing. [109]

Criticism of the West Edit

Once in the United States, Solzhenitsyn sharply criticized the West. [110]

Solzhenitsyn criticized the Allies for not opening a new front against Nazi Germany in the west earlier in World War II. This resulted in Soviet domination and control of the nations of Eastern Europe. Solzhenitsyn claimed the Western democracies apparently cared little about how many died in the East, as long as they could end the war quickly and painlessly for themselves in the West.

Delivering the commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, he called the United States Dechristianized and mired in boorish consumerism. The American people, he said, speaking in Russian through a translator, were also suffering from a "decline in courage" and a "lack of manliness." Few were willing to die for their ideals, he said. He also condemned the 1960s Counterculture for forcing the United States Federal Government to accept a "hasty" capitulation in the Vietnam War.

In a reference to the Communist Governments in Southeast Asia's use of re-education camps, politicide, human rights abuses, and genocide following the Fall of Saigon, Solzhenitsyn said: "But members of the U.S. antiwar movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there?" [111]

He also accused the Western news media of Left-Wing bias, of violating the privacy of celebrities, and of filling up the "immortal souls" of their readers with celebrity gossip and other "vain talk". He also said that the West erred in thinking that the whole world should embrace this as model. While faulting Soviet society for rejecting basic human rights and the rule of law, he also critiqued the West for being too legalistic: "A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities." Solzhenitsyn also argued that the West erred in "denying [Russian culture's] autonomous character and therefore never understood it". [62]

Solzhenitsyn criticized the 2003 invasion of Iraq and accused the United States of the "occupation" of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. [112]

Solzhenitsyn was critical of NATO's eastward expansion towards Russia's borders. [113] In 2006, Solzhenitsyn accused NATO of trying to bring Russia under its control he claimed this was visible because of its "ideological support for the 'colour revolutions' and the paradoxical forcing of North Atlantic interests on Central Asia". [113] In a 2006 interview with Der Spiegel he stated "This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc." [106]

The Holodomor Edit

Solzhenitsyn gave a speech to AFL–CIO in Washington, D.C., on 30 June 1975 in which he mentioned how the system created by the Bolsheviks in 1917 caused dozens of problems in the Soviet Union. [114] He described how this system was responsible for the Holodomor: "It was a system which, in time of peace, artificially created a famine, causing 6 million people to die in the Ukraine in 1932 and 1933." Solzhenitsyn added, "they died on the very edge of Europe. And Europe didn't even notice it. The world didn't even notice it—6 million people!" [114]

Shortly before his death, however, Solzhenitsyn opined in an interview published 2 April 2008 in Izvestia that, while the famine in Ukraine was both artificial and caused by the State, it was no different than the Russian famine of 1921. Solzhenitsyn expressed the belief that both famines were caused by systematic armed robbery of the harvests from both Russian and Ukrainian peasants by Bolshevik units, which were under orders from the Politburo to bring back food for the starving urban population centers while refusing for ideological reasons to permit any private sale of food supplies in the cities or to give any payment to the peasants in return for the food that was seized. [115] Solzhenitsyn further alleged that the theory that the Holodomor was a genocide which only victimized the Ukrainian people was created decades later by believers in an anti-Russian form of extreme Ukrainian nationalism. Solzhenitsyn also cautioned that the ultranationalists' claims risked being accepted without question in the West due to widespread ignorance and misunderstanding there of both Russian and Ukrainian history. [115]

The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center in Worcester, Massachusetts promotes the author and hosts the official English-language site dedicated to him. [116]

In popular media Edit

Solzhenitsyn is the subject of the song "Mother Russia" by British progressive rock group Renaissance.

Solzhenitsyn's philosophy plays a key role in the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, where a character previously kept ignorant and subservient is illegally educated, and is shown reading and quoting his works. [117]

Television documentaries on Solzhenitsyn Edit

In October 1983, French literary journalist Bernard Pivot made an hour-long television interview with Solzhenitsyn at his rural home in Vermont, US. Solzhenitsyn discussed his writing, the evolution of his language and style, his family and his outlook on the future—and stated his wish to return to Russia in his lifetime, not just to see his books eventually printed there. [118] [119] Earlier the same year, Solzhenitsyn was interviewed on separate occasions by two British journalists, Bernard Levin and Malcolm Muggeridge. [118]

In 1998, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov made a four-part television documentary, Besedy s Solzhenitsynym (The Dialogues with Solzhenitsyn). The documentary was shot in Solzhenitsyn's home depicting his everyday life and his reflections on Russian history and literature. [120]

In December 2009, the Russian channel Rossiya K broadcast the French television documentary L'Histoire Secrète de l'Archipel du Goulag (The Secret History of the Gulag Archipelago) [121] made by Jean Crépu and Nicolas Miletitch [122] and translated into Russian under the title Taynaya Istoriya "Arkhipelaga Gulag" (Тайная история "Архипелага ГУЛАГ"). The documentary covers events related to creation and publication of The Gulag Archipelago. [121] [123] [124]

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn > Quotes

&ldquoGradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.&rdquo
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

&ldquoOne day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: "Beauty will save the world". What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes - but whom has it saved?

There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender. It is possible to compose an outwardly smooth and elegant political speech, a headstrong article, a social program, or a philosophical system on the basis of both a mistake and a lie. What is hidden, what distorted, will not immediately become obvious.

Then a contradictory speech, article, program, a differently constructed philosophy rallies in opposition - and all just as elegant and smooth, and once again it works. Which is why such things are both trusted and mistrusted.

In vain to reiterate what does not reach the heart.

But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force - they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.

So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through - then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?

In that case Dostoevsky's remark, "Beauty will save the world", was not a careless phrase but a prophecy? After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination.

And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?&rdquo
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture


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