The Gulag Archipelago published
It was December 28, 1973
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "literary investigation" of the police-state system in the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956, is published in the original Russian in Paris. The book was the first of the three-volume work. The brutal and uncompromising description of political repression and terror was quickly translated into many languages and was published in the United States just a few months later.
Solzhenitsyn's massive work detailed the machinations of the Soviet police state from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to 1956.
In the preface to the book, however, he warned that reading the work would be "very dangerous" for Russians in 1973. The book was important in that it maintained that police terror had always been essential to the existence of the Soviet state. This deviated from the standard Soviet line that such terror had only come about during the time of Stalin and evaporated upon his death in 1956. Solzhenitsyn admitted that political repression eased during the ensuing Khruschev years--the author himself was freed from political prison during that time. However, he believed that since Khruschev's ouster in 1964, the Soviet state again resorted to intimidation and terror. His disappointment at the reversion of his country to these scare tactics influenced his decision to allow the publication of his book.
The book was an instant success in the West, but Soviet officials were livid. TASS, the official Soviet news agency, declared that the work was an "unfounded slander" against the Russian people. On February 12, 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, stripped of his citizenship, and deported. He eventually settled in the United States. In the 1980s, he refused Mikhail Gorbachev's offer to reinstate his Soviet citizenship, but did return to Russia to live in 1994. Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure in Moscow on August 3, 2008. He was 89.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: 1918-2008
Writer bore witness to communist tyranny
Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the reclusive icon of the Russian intelligentsia and chronicler of communist repression, died on August. He was 89.
His son, Stephan Solzhenitsyn, told the Associated Press that his father died of heart failure in Moscow.
The soulful writer and spiritual father of Russia's nationalist patriotic movement lived to be reunited with his beloved homeland after two decades of exile - only to be as distressed by communism's damage to the Russian character as he was by his earlier forced estrangement from the land and people he loved.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn returned from his Vermont refuge to a dramatically changed Russia in 1994 but deemed it a moral ruin after a monthslong odyssey to become re-acquainted with the country that had denounced him as a traitor, stripped him of citizenship and expelled him in 1974.
Hailed as Russia's greatest living writer, the author of more than two dozen books - in addition to commentaries, poems, plays and film scripts - won back his citizenship and the respect of his fellow Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although his books were best-sellers in the West, only "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was published first in his homeland.
Other major works include a memoir, "The Oak and the Calf," and "August 1914," the first volume of a monumental history of 20th century Russia.
With his masterwork, "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.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn saw the Soviet Union as cruel and suffocating "under the malevolent and unyielding nature of communism." He even attacked the revered god of the Soviet Union - its founder, V.I. Lenin.
He denounced the East-West detente of the 1970s as a sham and called the 1975 Helsinki Accord - the charter of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe - the West's capitulation to Soviet enslavement of Eastern Europe.
Never hesitant to criticize his adopted country during 20 years in exile, he viewed the United States and the West in general as flaccid, morally weak, cravenly materialistic and suffering from "the spiritual impotence that comes from living a life of ease."
Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was born Dec. 11, 1918, in Kislovodsk, a fashionable health resort in southern Russia. A descendant of well-to-do Russian peasants, he was born six months after his father, Isaaki, died in a hunting accident.
Since he was 9, he had written stories, poems and plays. He attended secondary school in the industrial city of Rostov, where his mother was a typist.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn graduated from the city's university with a degree in mathematics and physics in 1941, the year Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The same year, he married fellow student Natalia Reshtovskaya.
At the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Solzhenitsyn volunteered for the military but was turned down because of a minor congenital ailment. When the Soviet Union desperately needed manpower to stem German advances, he was drafted. He was appointed commander of a battery in 1942 and fought on the front lines until virtually the end of the war.
Three months before the end of the war in 1945, Mr. Solzhenitsyn was arrested for remarks he made in letters to a friend that censors turned over to the secret police. Mr. Solzhenitsyn had been critical about "the mustachioed one" - Stalin - and spoke, half-seriously, of founding a party that would return the Soviet Union to the true path of Marxism-Leninism from which it had strayed under Stalin.
Sent to Moscow's notorious Lubyanka prison, Mr. Solzhenitsyn was convicted by a three-member tribunal for anti-Soviet behavior and sentenced to eight years in prison.
He completed his sentence in a Kazakhstan labor camp that was noted for its harsh conditions. After being stricken with cancer in 1952, he underwent surgery in the camp hospital and was deemed cured, an experience that led to his novel "Cancer Ward," published in the West in 1968.
Upon completing his sentence on Feb. 9, 1953, he was condemned to exile "in perpetuity." He was sent to the desolate village of Kok Terek in Kazakhstan. There, he was again stricken with cancer but won permission to be treated 1,000 miles away in Tashkent. He was released from the hospital in 1954.
Shortly before Mr. Solzhenitsyn's release from prison, he divorced Reshtovskaya.
In 1956, Mr. Solzhenitsyn was informed that his sentence had been annulled. He soon began teaching in Ryazan, southeast of Moscow.
During the early 1960s, the Soviet Union was experiencing a short-lived period of liberalization under Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev. Mr. Solzhenitsyn began to reveal his secret life as a writer.
In 1961, Mr. Solzhenitsyn used a pseudonym upon submitting "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," based on his experiences in the labor camps to the literary magazine Novy Mir, which published it the next year.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn had remarried Reshtovskaya in the 1950s, only to divorce her again in 1973. By then he had fallen in love with Natalia Svetlova, with whom he had had three sons.
Harassment from authorities
In the meantime, Mr. Solzhenitsyn suffered increased harassment from the regime that blocked his efforts to have his other works published. Frustrated, he had some of them smuggled to the United States and other parts of the West - "The Gulag Archipelago" was slipped out on microfilm and published in Paris in December 1973.
In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian Literature." Fearing he would not be allowed to return to his homeland if he went to Sweden to receive the prize, Mr. Solzhenitsyn did not accept it in Stockholm until 1974 - after his expulsion from the Soviet Union.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn was arrested Feb. 12, 1974, for treason and deported "for the systematic execution of actions incompatible with Soviet citizenship and harmful to the U.S.S.R." Placed aboard an Aeroflot airliner with seven KGB agents, Mr. Solzhenitsyn arrived in Frankfurt, West Germany.
A month later, as Soviet authorities had promised, Mr. Solzhenitsyn's wife, mother-in-law and three children joined him.
In 1976, he settled in Vermont - whose scenery he liked for its similarity to the Russian heartland - and bought a house on 50 acres near Cavendish.
"I think - I am sure - that I will return to Russia and still have a chance to live there," he said in 1980. Yet the collapse of communism and his return to Russia brought him little solace.
After Russians gave him a euphoric welcome in 1994, Mr. Solzhenitsyn embarked on a two-month, nearly 6,000-mile sojourn across Russia to reacquaint himself with his homeland and assess the depths of communism's damage to his nation.
"I came with a very sad, dark idea of the country," he told a town meeting in Yaroslavl as he neared the conclusion of his journey in Moscow, 150 miles away. "It has been confirmed."
Despairing of his fellow Russians' abuse of alcohol and immunity from patriotic feelings, Mr. Solzhenitsyn bought a country estate outside the Russian capital.
He is survived by his wife and three sons.
Nikos Deja Vu