Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist, Died at 89

Dead, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn on the 3rd of August 2008 at the age of 89, he was a Russian novelist, historian, and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union, especially its totalitarianism who helped to raise global awareness of its gulag forced labour camp system.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”.

Born in Kislovodsk, RSFSR (now in Stavropol Krai, Russia) on the 11th of December 1918, his mother, Taisiya Solzhenitsyn (born Shcherbak) was Ukrainian.

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.

During World War I, Taisiya went to Moscow to study. While there she met and married Isaakiy Solzhenitsyn, a young officer in the Imperial Russian Army of Cossack origins and fellow native of the Caucasus region.

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.

Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics 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.

While serving as an artillery officer in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn witnessed war crimes against local German civilians by Soviet military personnel.

The noncombatants and the elderly were robbed of their meager possessions and women and girls were gang-raped to death. A few years later, in the forced labor camp, he memorized a poem entitled “Prussian Nights” about these incidents.

In it, the first-person narrator comments on the events with sarcasm and refers to the responsibility of official Soviet writers like Ilya Ehrenburg. The poem describes the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German.

In 1956, Solzhenitsyn was allowed to settle in central Russia, where he taught mathematics and began writing in earnest.

By the early 1960s, with government control being loosened in Russia, Solzhenitsyn saw his short novel Odin den iz zhizni Ivana Denisovicha (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) published in Novy Mir (New World), a leading literary journal.

Based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences, Ivan Denisovich described a day in the life of a Stalin-era inmate, and its authenticity struck a chord with readers, especially since it was the first such work to appear in post-Stalin Russia.

In 1973, Arkhipelag Gulag (The Gulag Archipelago), a literary-historical record of the Soviet prison/labor camp system that became a multi-tentacled monster under Stalin, started to appear in installments in Paris and the KGB has seized the manuscript in the Soviet Union.

In 1998, his autobiography, Ugodilo zernyshko promezh dvukh zhernovov: ocherki izgnaniia (The Little Grain Managed to Land between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile) began appearing in instalments.