Alexander Solzhenitsyn, gulag chronicler, dies
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature whose chronicles of Soviet tyranny made him a symbol...
MOSCOW — Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature whose chronicles of Soviet tyranny made him a symbol of freedom and the durability of the human spirit, died Sunday. He was 89.
Stepan Solzhenitsyn said his father died of heart failure late Sunday at his home near Moscow.
Driven, principled, frequently arrogant, a bearded figure with the fierce visage of a prophet, Mr. Solzhenitsyn (sohl-zheh-NEETS-ihn) was regarded as one of the greatest and most influential writers of the 20th century.
A member of the first generation to be raised entirely under communism, Mr. Solzhenitsyn had experienced in his life much of what he related in his books.
That he persevered through cancer, prison, labor camps, controversy and condemnation was a wonder to many, and his accounts riveted his countrymen.
Like Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevski, the 19th century masters of Russian letters, his subject was thought to be the struggle between good and evil in the Russian soul. The line separating the two, he said, ran through every heart.
In "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" and "The Gulag Archipelago," his acknowledged masterpieces, and a vast outpouring of other works, he chronicled the sufferings of his countrymen and bore lasting witness to the fate of millions of otherwise forgotten victims of Soviet misrule. Literature, he declared in his Nobel lecture, "is the living memory of a nation. It sustains within itself and safeguards a nation's bygone history.
"But woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force."
With "The Gulag Archipelago," he gave a name to the brutal network of labor camps that spread across the Soviet Union during dictator Josef Stalin's frenzied industrialization drive. Tens of millions of men, women and children died in the effort.
It shocked readers and helped erase lingering sympathy for the Soviet Union among many leftist intellectuals, especially in Europe.
But his account of that secret system of prison camps was also inspiring in its description of how one person — Mr. Solzhenitsyn himself — survived, physically and spiritually, in a penal system of soul-crushing hardship and injustice.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Solzhenitsyn struggled against the Soviet leadership almost in the shadow of the Kremlin. In 1974, he was charged with treason and exiled to the West, where he received a hero's welcome, although his attacks on Western culture and politics drew detractors.
After leaving the Soviet Union, Mr. Solzhenitsyn lived in Zurich, then in Cavendish, Vt., where he spent what he described as some of his happiest years, working in peace in surroundings that reminded him of home.
In 1994, having completed "The Red Wheel," a massive series of historical novels on the Russian Revolution, he returned to his beloved Russia.
Received as a national treasure, he made a triumphant whistle-stop cross-country train trip. But in later television appearances he was viewed as gloomy and out of touch, and he retreated to his Moscow home.
During the 1990s, his stalwart nationalist views, his devout Orthodoxy, his disdain for capitalism and disgust with the tycoons who bought Russian industries and resources cheaply after the Soviet collapse, were unfashionable. He faded from public view.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn spent the last decade of his life in failing health and seclusion at his rural estate outside Moscow, editing his life's work for a 30-volume anthology that he predicted he would not live to see completed.
Compiled from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times reports
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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