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Solzhenitsyn, 20th Century Oracle Dies

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      Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Hoover Library at Stanford university in May,
      1976. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

      Solzhenitsyn, 20th-century oracle, dies

      _By Michael T. Kaufman_ (http://www.iht.com/cgi-bin/search.cgi?query=By
      Michael T. Kaufman&sort=publicationdate&submit=Search)
      Published: August 4, 2008


      _Listen to Article_


      Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary
      struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of
      Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful literary works of the 20th century,
      died late on Sunday at the age of 89 in Moscow. His son Yermolai said the
      cause was a heart ailment.
      Solzhenitsyn outlived by nearly 17 years the Soviet state and system he had
      battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.
      Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school
      science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage
      in 1962 with "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." The book, a
      mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly he was being
      compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekov.
      Over the next five decades, Solzhenitsyn's fame spread throughout the world
      as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative
      novels like "The First Circle" and "The Cancer Ward" and historical works like
      "The Gulag Archipelago."
      "Gulag" was a monumental account of the Soviet labor camp system, a chain of
      prisons that by Solzhenitsyn's calculation some 60 million people had entered
      during the 20th century. The book led to his expulsion from his native land.
      George Kennan, the American diplomat, described it as "the greatest and most
      powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in
      modern times."


      Audio: Serge Schmemann on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (mp3)
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      Photos: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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      Times topic: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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      Solzhenitsyn was heir to a morally focused and often prophetic Russian
      literary tradition, and he looked the part. With his stern visage, lofty brow and
      full, Old Testament beard, he recalled Tolstoy while suggesting a modern-day
      Jeremiah, denouncing the evils of the Kremlin and later the mores of the
      West. He returned to Russia and deplored what he considered its spiritual
      decline, but in the last years of his life he embraced President Vladimir Putin as a
      restorer of Russia's greatness.

      In almost half a century, more than 30 million of his books have been sold
      worldwide and translated into some 40 languages. In 1970 he was awarded the
      Nobel Prize in Literature.
      Solzhenitsyn owed his initial success to the Soviet leader Nikita
      Khrushchev's decision to allow "Ivan Denisovich" to be published in a popular journal.
      Khrushchev believed its publication would advance the liberal line he had
      promoted since his secret speech in 1956 on the crimes of Stalin.
      But soon after the story appeared, Khrushchev was replaced by hard-liners,
      and they campaigned to silence its author. They stopped publication of his new
      works, denounced him as a traitor and confiscated his manuscripts.
      A Giant and a Victim
      But their iron grip could not contain Solzhenitsyn's reach. By then his works
      were appearing outside the Soviet Union, in many languages, and he was being
      compared not only to Russia's literary giants but also to Stalin's literary
      victims, writers like Anna Akhmatova, Iosip Mandleshtam and Boris Pasternak.
      At home, the Kremlin stepped up its campaign by expelling Solzhenitsyn from
      the Writer's Union. He fought back. He succeeded in having microfilms of his
      banned manuscripts smuggled out of the Soviet Union. He addressed petitions to
      government organs, wrote open letters, rallied support among friends and
      artists, and corresponded with people abroad. They turned his struggles into one
      of the most celebrated cases of the cold war period.
      Hundreds of well-known intellectuals signed petitions against his silencing;
      the names of left-leaning figures like Jean-Paul Sartre carried particular
      weight with Moscow. Other supporters included Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, W.H.
      Auden, Gunther Grass, Heinrich Boll, Yukio Mishima, Carlos Fuentes and, from
      the United States, Arthur Miller, John Updike, Truman Capote and Kurt
      Vonnegut. All joined a call for an international cultural boycott of the Soviet
      That position was confirmed when he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in the
      face of Moscow's protests. The Nobel jurists cited him for "the ethical force
      with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian
      Solzhenitsyn dared not travel to Stockholm to accept the prize for fear that
      the Soviet authorities would prevent him from returning. But his acceptance
      address was circulated widely. He recalled a time when "in the midst of
      exhausting prison camp relocations, marching in a column of prisoners in the gloom
      of bitterly cold evenings, with strings of camp lights glimmering through
      the darkness, we would often feel rising in our breast what we would have wanted
      to shout out to the whole world — if only the whole world could have heard

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