Sunday, 3 August 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn - a Truthful view?

"No other writer of the 20th century has had such an influence on history," says D.M.Thomas in the prologue to the acclaimed biography (ISBN: 978-0756760113) of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who has died near Moscow at the age of 89, according to BBC reports.

After spending eight years imprisoned (1945-53), during which he was given treatment for cancer, and at the age of 42, Solzhenitsy had written a great deal in secret, but had nothing published. It was his 1962 novella “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” - (ISBN: 978-0451523105) an account of a day in a Gulag prisoner's life which made him an instant celebrity during the post-Stalin political period.

He was subsequently forced to publish his novels abroad, The First Circle and Cancer Ward, both damning allegories of the Soviet system.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, three years before the first of the three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago was published in the West. Still living in Russia, he had been hiding the novel from the authorities, fearful that people mentioned in it would suffer reprisals. His former assistant revealed its location after interrogation and committed suicide. Solzhenitsyn decided to publish it in the West in response. The Gulag Archipelago offered a detailed account of the systematic Soviet abuses from 1918 to 1956 in the gargantuan network of work and prison camps. Its publication led to his denunciation as a traitor.

In early 1974, rather than put him on trial, the Soviet authorities stripped him of his citizenship and expelled him. In exile, he continued to be a source of controversy, apparently acclaimed and criticized from all sides, West and East.

It was settled in Vermont, USA where he completed the two further volumes of The Gulag Archipelago.

Prussian Nights, a long narrative poem about the Red Army's vengeful advance into East Prussia in 1945, was published in 1977. It was said he composed the poem and committed it to memory 25 years before, during his years in prison.

He was awarded Russia’s top honour for a lifetime of humanitarian achievements in 2007, by now former President Vladimir Putin.

General consensus would state that Solzhenitsyn was a leading writer of the twentieth century, someone who was able to combine truth telling with fiction, and with literary flair. He devoted his life's energy to telling future generations of Russians the truth of their history and of responsibility. About his Western critics Solzhenitsyn himself had said, "They lie about me as if I were already dead."

Now, it is his writing which remains, his truth, perhaps his only unbiased obituary.

BBC, Reuters, Wikipedia

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