Solzhenitsyn: exiled then exalted in Russia
The Nobel Prize-winning writer gave voice to millions imprisoned in Stalin's Gulag. He died Sunday.
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"A Day in the Life" was published in Moscow in 1962, but when the liberal reformer Nikita Khrushchev fell from power two years later, all plans to print the author's other novels were canceled.Skip to next paragraph
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All of Solzhenitsyn's writings were smuggled to the West, where they were published to great acclaim in the late 1960s. But adulation abroad brought Solzhenitsyn into deepening friction with Soviet authorities, who were furious that his revelations about the Gulag and spiritual poverty of Soviet life appeared to validate the West's cold-war image of conditions in the workers' state.
His novels won Solzhenitsyn the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970. But it was a work of nonfiction, "The Gulag Archipelago," that prompted Soviet authorities to finally charge him with treason and expel him from the USSR, along with his whole family, in 1974.
Part memoir, part journalism, the immense three-volume work chronicled the origins and evolution of the USSR's secret web of prison camps, which, at their peak, numbered in the thousands and held millions of hapless inmates.
Expelled from Russia, Solzhenitsyn and his family took up residence in Switzerland and later, from 1976, on a 50-acre estate in Vermont. During his long exile in the US, he worked on his still unfinished cycle of novels, entitled "The Red Wheel," which cover the early 20th century history of Russia's descent into war, revolution, and communism.
He returned to Russia after the collapse of the USSR and in 1994 embarked on a two-month, 6,000-mile journey across the country that left him with grim impressions. "I came with a very sad, dark idea of the country," he told a meeting in the central Russian city of Yaroslavl. "It has been confirmed." The author rebuffed ex-President Boris Yeltsin's attempts to present him with a medal, but last year finally accepted a State Prize for "humanitarian achievements" awarded by Vladimir Putin.
Solzhenitsyn's warming ties with the Kremlin under Mr. Putin led some critics to view him as soft on Russia's growing authoritarianism. The author also triggered controversy with a book he wrote about Russian-Jewish relations, "Two Hundred Years Together," published in 2003, which some saw as perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.
In an interview with the state-run English language TV channel Russia Today this year, Solzhenitsyn's wife, Natalia, said he was disappointed with Russia's post-Soviet direction.
"[Solzhenitsyn] has said many times that we've chosen the worst, most crooked, most unfair and ineffective way to get rid of communism," she said. "All his works during the recent 14 years have been full of hope that we would finally straighten our paths in some ways, and full of sadness that we've chosen an extremely irrational and ineffective way. And our country will be paying for it for a long time."