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 Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Born:   11 December 1918



Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is widely acknowledged as a notable Russian man of letters, known all over the world as a Nobel Prize winner and the author of The Gulag Archipelago, "an attempt of research of the totalitarian governmental system of annihilating people in the USSR".

Solzhenitsyn Aleksandr Isayevich was born on December 11, 1918 in the town of Kislovodsk. His father, an officer, died before the boys birth. Aleksandr was brought up by his mother, a well-educated woman. They lived a poor life in Rostov-on-Don. As a boy Aleksandr already took to writing poems and short stories and dreamt of becoming a writer. Having no opportunity of moving to Moscow Solzhenitsyn entered the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics at Rostov University. From 1939 he also studied by correspondence at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and Arts. He graduated from the university just a few days before the war broke out in 1941.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn After taking an intensive course in artillery preparation Aleksandr was put in command of a squadron. From spring of 1943 till February 1945 he moved together with the front line from Oryol town to the Eastern Prussia. He was awarded with the Patriotic War Order(1943) and the Red Star Order (1944) and promoted to the rank of Captain.

In February 1945 he was arrested by the KGB, which found a disguised critical remark on Stalin in Solzhenitsyns correspondence with his friend. For about a year Aleksandr was kept at Lubyanka, the central prison in Moscow, until he was transferred to Marfino, a specialized prison near Moscow where physicists and other scientists were forced to carry out secret research work (this experience is described in the novel The First Circle, with its title alluding to Dantes Inferno).

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn After four years of confinement Solzhenitsyn was sent to a camp for political prisoners in Kazakhstan where he had to work as a miner, a mason, and a caster. There he got rapidly progressing stomach cancer. After the eight-year term of his sentence was over Solzhenitsyn instead of being released was exiled for life. Luckily he underwent ray therapy that cured him at the Tashkent hospital, the events prompting his story Cancer Ward. When in exile Solzhenitsyn taught mathematics and physics in a village school and secretly wrote prose. In June 1957 after rehabilitation he settled with his wife (N. Reshetovskaya) in the town of Ryazan where he worked as a teacher and wrote his novel The First Circle. At that time Solzhenitsyn could not even dream to live to see his works published; moreover, he was afraid to show his writings to anyone.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn However, Khrushchevs Thaw brought about considerable changes: in 1962 the literary journal Novyi Mir (translated as New World) with Tvardovsky as its editor-in-chief published the story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich that made Solzhenitsyn well-known all around the USSR. The work showing the horrors of labour camp life through the eyes of a common man marked the beginning of the Soviet camp literature. Novyi Mir also published the stories Matryonas Home and An Incident at Krechetovka Station but Cancer Ward was rejected by censors.

book cover Soon the political situation changed and so did the writers status. The persecution of Solzhenitsyn was renewed: he was expelled from the Writers Union and his works were flayed and then banned. In 1967 Solzhenitsyn addressed an open letter to the Congress of Soviet Writers, with an appeal to stop censorship, but all in vain. The publication of the authors novels The First Circle (1955-1958) and Cancer Ward (1963-1966) in the West made his situation still worse. At that time he found refuge at the country house of Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya.

Solzhenitsyn went on writing secretly; working on The Gulag Archipelago (1964 - 1970) he had to be very cautious as the KGB was keeping vigilant watch over the writers activity.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The word combination Gulag Archipelago has now become a common noun and is often used in essays and belletristic literature, first of all referring to penitentiary system of the USSR in the 1920s1950s.

In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize "for moral strength rooted in traditions of the great Russian literature". As for Soviet authorities they interpreted it as "a hostile act. "

In 1974 the writer was exiled from the USSR. For some time Solzhenitsyn lived in Zurich before moving to the States in 1976. He and his family settled in seclusion in a remote village in Vermont (this is where his nick-name Vermont Recluse comes from).

Many expected that his coming to the West would be the evidence of his complete and absolute support of the Western democracy. They thought Solzhenistyn would become the witness of superiority of the so-called Western democracy. These people were disappointed when they realized that Solzhenitsyn being a consistent dissident was criticizing not only the communist establishment but the Western democracy as well. He offered such an opinion that Western democracy is a very good thing but it is based on the fact that everyone has ones own view and all these views are right in a way and contain a piece of truth, whereas the truth itself somehow goes away.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn When living abroad the writer completed his book of memoirs The Oak and the Calf, wrote several plays and finished the publication of The Red Wheel. This eight-volume epic on which the author was working from 1969 to 1988 consists of the novels August 1914, October 1916, and March 1917 unfolding the history of Russian revolution. The writer considered this series his major work. According to Solzhenitsyn, it is "a tragic story of how the Russiansdestroyed their past and their future".

Along with Perestroika the attitude towards his writings and activities saw a great change in the USSR. Starting from 1989 Solzhenitsyns works came to be published in Russia again. A year later he was granted back his Soviet citizenship and soon his famous article Rebuilding Russia was published with 27 million copies printed in the USSR and roused great interest and debate. In 1990 he was awarded the State Prize for The Gulag Archipelago.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with his family finally returned to his motherland on 27 May 1994: he took a flight from the USA to Vladivostok and then made a trip by train through the whole country to Moscow. After his return to Russia Solzhenitsyn lived and worked in Moscow and in his country cottage near Moscow.

Soon after coming home the writer established his own literary prize to award writers whose creation has high artistic value, favors self-knowledge of Russia and makes a considerable contribution to preserving and developing the traditions of national literature.

One of his later books Russia Collapsing criticizing New Russian business ways and politics did not gain such acclaim as his early works. Neither his TV talk show was a success. However, the screen version of The First Circle broadcasted in 2006 enjoyed attention of a huge audience.

Not long before his decease Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was in poor health but went on his creative activities. Together with his wife Natalya Dmitrievna, President of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Foundation he worked on preparation and publication of the most complete 30-volume edition of Solzhenitsyns selected works.

After a hard operation that he underwent he had only his left hand functioning.

On 3 August 2008 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died of acute heart failure, aged 89, in his country cottage in Troitse-Lykovo under Moscow.

The writer is laid to rest in a monastery necropolis behind the chancel of St. John of the Ladder Church, next to Vasili Klychevskys grave.

The contribution of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn into social, political and cultural life of this country can hardly be overestimated. His name has passed into history of national and world literature and human rights movement.

Link to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Lecture:
Link to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's Banquet Speech:



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