Sunday, August 3, 2008

Goodbye Solzhenitsyn

A hero fell today: Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, prophetic scourge of the late Soviet Empire (and, in many ways, of the waning American Empire), died today at the age of 89. He burst upon the international literary scene in 1962 with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a book about life in the Siberian gulag. I read it years ago, but as I recall, it's a strangely optimistic book in the sense that grace, brotherhood, and love of life thrive even amidst horrible political oppression. It's also one of the few (only?) classics of 20th-century literature that portrays a Baptist in a positive light.

After publishing One Day in the Life in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn defected to the United States and exposed the horrific conditions behind the Iron Curtain. Though it's hard to believe today, many Western intellectuals embraced the Soviet experiment even up to that time. However, Solzhenitsyn's courage to tell the truth of the ill-fated Russian communist experiment played a key role in the thaw of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Be sure to read his 1978 Harvard address. Also check out the Solzhenitsyn Reader. And here is a lengthy eulogy from the New York Times.
(I received the news via telephone from Tokyo - thanks for the tip, Josh.)


Sarah Providence said...

Whoa. His Harvard address lends an interesting perspective to life in the West. It's rather depressing, but so true.
I can't help but wonder the reaction of the grads/attendees.

I, Bill Clifton... said...

From what I understand, at this point, many of the Western intellectuals who had embraced Solzhenitsyn quickly disavowed his "reactionary" views, and his star fell as quickly as it rose. However, he remained a relevant literary presence (though that faded, too), and conservatives continue to claim him as a thinker.