Death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn – dissident and writer

August 4, 2008

Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn talks to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin after receiving a State Prize for his achievements in the humanitarian field at his home in Troitse-Lykovo outside Moscow June 12, 2007.Tributes have been pouring in for Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian author, former Soviet dissident and Nobel Literature prize laureate who died on Sunday aged 89.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, described the author of “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” as a man of unique destiny and said: “He was one of the first people who spoke up about the inhumanity of Stalin’s regime with a full voice, and about the people who lived through this but were not broken.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called him “one of Russia’s greatest consciences of the 20th century” and said: “His refusal to compromise, his ideals and his long and eventful life make Alexander Solzhenitsyn a romantic figure, an heir of Dostoyevsky’s.”  He said Solzhenitsyn “belongs to the pantheon of world literature.” 

London’s Daily Telegraph said Solzhenitsyn “was not only a great man, but a passionately committed writer – he believed it was his moral duty, in the face of systematic totalitarian obfuscation, to record Russia’s 20th-century experience for posterity.” 

The Washington Post described him as “a symbol of freedom and the durability of the human spirit” whose subject matter was the struggle between good and evil in the Russian soul.

Yury Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, last year said Solzhenitsyn was “the author of works without which the history of the 20th century is unthinkable”.  

Solzhenitsyn was widely read in the West and in Russia even though he did not court fame. He had admirers both for his literary work and for the contribution he made as a dissident.  

How good a writer do you think Alexander Solzhenitsyn was? How important do you think his role was as a dissident and as the nation’s moral conscience?     


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Solzhenitsyn the writer far surpassed Solzhenitsyn the dissident, and he was world-class at that. As a technician, he was unsurpassed, possibly unequaled, and he was a great student of writing as well as a great teacher. Long after the memeory of him as a man has faded, readers will continue to be astounded by his skill, his pithy, succint sentences, but most of all at his ability to create such vivid imagery in so few words. In short, he was a genius.

Posted by James ben Goy | Report as abusive

read the book “a day in the life of…” as a kid in school (in the U.S). it was required reading. recall it being very well written. it’s a shame russia booted him out of the country he loved but perhaps he survived because of it. more power to those around the world who tell it like it is. wouldn’t it be great if journalists, politicians and the U.N. were as brave and idealistic as him?

Posted by good day | Report as abusive

Solzhenitsyn quite simply changed my life. In 1968 I was given the book ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’. I was 12 years old and it was an abrupt awakening that man’s inhumanity to man had not, afterall, ended in 1945 at the close of World War II. I began to learn more about the Soviet Union then five years later became a member of Amnesty International (UK) and joined the campaigns to help Soviet dissidents. Great names such as Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner, Joseph Begum, Anatoly Sharansky and many more like them. Later, another Soviet writer would have a lasting effect on me – one of the last dissidents, the talented and courageous Irina Ratushinskaya. Some years later I was fortunate to hear her speak in London. I will always feel that Solzhenitsyn introduced me to these people. What a great man, what a loss.

Posted by Sarah Farman | Report as abusive

As written to a friend yesterday:

Time is 09:35 and I have not yet started my routine perusal of the morning news. I spent about an hour and a half before and after breakfast reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn (AZ) obituaries. The best I read are in the “NY Times” and Germany’s “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. As many point out, no writer’s works in the second half of the last century had more political influence and impact than AZ’s, especially “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and, above all, “The Gulag Archipelago”. (And this is not to overlook the importance of Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon,” Camus, Raymond Aron, and many other Europeans.) The later very literally destroyed the French communist party. After the “Gulag” it became all but impossible for any European (West) so-called ” engagé intellectual” to be a Marxist-Leninist. The controlled indignation and anger AZ sustains throughout all three volumes of his account of the horrors of the “Gulag,” i.e. his remaining sane while documenting and describing (“bearing witness”) the reality of this 20th century (god how blood soaked it was…all previous centuries “pale in comparison”!!) exemplar of man’s inhumanity to man, is astounding. (Robert Conquest wrote that in writing The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, in the Ukraine and elsewhere, there were times that he had to stop in face of the horrors and he wondered, if he would be able to complete the study.) The pen is in fact mighty. I personally overlook AZ’s later political, social, and religious opinions including his praise of Putin. He was in a sense, as the FAZ obit points out, of the Russian 19th century. The man was a towering figure and “they” should tear down Lenin’s tomb and place a statue of him in its place. That there is to this day in Russia no memorial to the millions and millions who perished 1917 – 1956 (Khruschev’s “secret speech”) and no annual day of mourning is a human disgrace.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

May the RUSSIAN GENIUS and CONSCIENCE be a beacon to all who values human life so that we may not need to oppress or to kill in the pretext of helping fellow human beings.

May he enjoy a better life now.

Posted by siburp | Report as abusive

“…faith [in God] is the foundation and support of one’s life….”

A.I. Solzhenitsyn, 2007

Posted by Leibold | Report as abusive