Today's Birthdays: December 11

December 11

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

Pronunciation: [ulyiksän´dur EsI´uvich sôl"zhunEt´sin]

1918–, Russian Writer.

Born in Kislovodsk, Solzhenitsyn grew up in Rostov, where he studied mathematics at the university. During World War II he served in the Red Army, rising to the rank of artillery captain, and was decorated for bravery. In 1945, while still serving on the German front, he was arrested for criticizing Stalin in letters to a friend. In the Moscow prisons he was for the first time confronted with the tragic fates of other political prisoners. Sentenced to eight years in labor camps, he worked as a menial laborer and was stricken with cancer (from which he later recovered).

After completing his prison sentence, Solzhenitsyn was exiled to Kazakhstan, but after Stalin's death in 1953 his position improved, and his citizenship was restored in 1956. His first novels describe the grimness of life in the vast labor-camp system. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was permitted publication in 1962 as a result of the personal intervention of Nikita Khrushchev, in an effort to encourage anti-Stalinist feeling. The book was hailed as an exposé of Stalinist methods, and it placed the author in the foremost ranks of Soviet writers. With Khrushchev's own deposition, Solzhenitsyn's succeeding works were banned, and he was continually censured by the Soviet press.

With subsequent novels—The First Circle (1968), detailing the lives of scientists forced to work in a Stalinist research center and Cancer Ward (1968), concerning the complex social microcosm within a government hospital—censorship tightened, and Solzhenitsyn was increasingly regarded as a dangerous and hostile critic of Soviet society. His books found publication and an enormous audience abroad, and in the USSR they were circulated in samizdat (self-publishing, underground) editions. Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers and prohibited from living in Moscow.

In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but government pressure, specifically the threat of not being allowed to return from Stockholm, compelled him to decline the prize. His next novel, August 1914, Part I (1971), published abroad, is a compelling exposition of the internal strife in Russia leading to the Revolution of 1917. In 1973, fearing that he might soon be imprisoned again, Solzhenitsyn authorized the foreign publication of The Gulag Archipelago, a vast work that documents with personal interviews and reminiscences the operation of the oppressive Soviet totalitarian system from 1918 to 1956. In Feb., 1974 Solzhenitsyn was arrested, formally accused of treason, stripped of his citizenship, and forcibly deported to the West. In exile he was able to accept personally his Nobel Prize in Stockholm (1974).

Solzhenitsyn ultimately settled in the United States and in 1980 The Oak and the Calf and The Mortal Danger were published. Some have criticized his work as old-fashioned and his world view as rigid, harsh, and overly moralistic. However, Solzhenitsyn remains widely respected not only as a fearless novelist who convincingly describes techniques of terror and the resulting moral debasement in the USSR, but also as a leader of a small but vociferous group of intellectual dissidents who endeavored to expose the nature of the Soviet system.



See biography by Hans Björkegren (tr. 1972); studies by Abraham Rothberg (1971), Christopher Moody (1973), and K. Feuer (1976); bibliography ed. by D. M. Fiene (1973); Leopold Labedz, ed., Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1973).

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