Solzhenitsyn dies

August 4, 2008 | 18 comments
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Rest in peace.

Lileks remembers him here.

I read the Gulag Archipelago when I was 12 and it changed me. Later I read his other works and his more modern works. Like us, he was in many ways a stranger in a secular land.

18 Responses to Solzhenitsyn dies

  1. Wm Morris on August 4, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Amen.

  2. Raymond Takashi Swenson on August 4, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    It seems to me that his views, back during the Cold War, about the shape of a future Russian state, were largely borne out by the events that happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  3. David S. on August 4, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I\’ve come to admire Solzhenitsyn in recent years. He\’ll be missed.

  4. Ray on August 4, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Amen. Thanks for letting us know, Adam.

  5. kuri on August 4, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    He was a magnificent writer. I remember reading The Gulag Archipelago out of a sense of duty and being astonished at how funny it was. It\’s one of the funniest books I\’ve ever read.

  6. Richard Sopp on August 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    He was one of the greatest men of the 20th Century.

    P.S. I’ll bet you could count the number of 12 year olds who have read Gulag Archipelago on one hand. My mother read excerpts to me when I was that age but you never could have gotten me to read it myself.

  7. Ardis Parshall on August 4, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    I couldn’t read even the first volume of Gulag at 18. It required familiarity with too much Russian history and culture for even someone with the interest I had in those things to make any sense of it. His writing — and speaking — was most definitely not aimed at a western audience, but at a Russian one; he had no interest in or appreciation for western politics or civilization, except for what they could do to bring about his vision for Russia. A good man, no doubt; a great thinker, no doubt; but I admit to being baffled by those here who say they read (and comprehended?) Gulag.

  8. Thomas Parkin on August 5, 2008 at 12:01 am

    I read the Gulag Archipelago in 2002, along with a number of books on Saddam’s Iraq, Nazi Germany and Robert Conquest’s books on the Soviet Union. The experience spurred the closest thing I’ve ever had to a political awakening. (Fortunately, I’ve gone back to sleep. Nothing is as bad for one’s digestion as political stridency.) Especially Gulag woke me up to the reality of evil in the world, and helped demolish my unrealized sense of immunity to history. It is one thing to know the facts of various atrocities – it is another to wake up to them. This realization of evil on a massive scale was one thread of several that lead me back to the church a couple years later.

    ~

  9. Velska on August 5, 2008 at 4:33 am

    As a young man living in Europe I remember Sozhenitsyn being a bone of contention. As everyone knows, at the time the Gulag Archipelago came out, the Left of Europe was at its strongest, and they resented that someone from inside the Soviet system would criticize their ideal society. And the Nobel in ’74 didn’t make it easier for them.

    I remember being somewhat confused about what the truth is about the Soviet system. As mentioned, Solzhenitsyn’s view was vindicated during the Glasnost years and after the final collapse of the USSR. That he chose to move back to Russia in ’94 was an indication of his enduring love for his native country, and he is an icon of nationalists in Russia (borne out by Medvedev’s and Putin’s comments on his passing). He really was a patriot.

    I only wish someone of Solzhenitsyn’s talent and character would turn up in Russia these days. For Putin’s Soviet Lite has turned heavy-handed and not so much unlike the old Soviet system. The only difference is that these days it’s money that makes you, not being faithful to the Party (okay, there is a nominal “opposition” party now).

  10. Adam Greenwood on August 5, 2008 at 7:10 am

    I couldn’t read even the first volume of Gulag at 18. It required familiarity with too much Russian history and culture for even someone with the interest I had in those things to make any sense of it.

    Perhaps you should have read it at 12, when you were too young to realize you were missing everything.

  11. Sarah on August 5, 2008 at 7:38 am

    I didn’t try reading Gulag till I already had about fifty quarters hours of credit in Russian language, literature, history, and politics; it didn’t seem all that hard. Nothing compared to Dostoevsky or James Joyce. Or the last part of War and Peace. People who say they understand that stuff are the real hard ones to believe.

    I wonder if my youngest siblings and nieces and nephews — the ones born in the 1990s and 2000s — will ever really be able to understand that the whole thing really happened. My 19-year-old sister doesn’t really believe that the Berlin Wall was anything more than a symbol; she doesn’t even remember Yeltsin on the tank outside of the Russian parliament. Stalingrad is the stuff of movies; it’s all about as “real” as the Roman Empire and King Tut. And the USSR actually existed when she was born.

  12. Mark B. on August 5, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Gulag just confirmed what all of us who grew up during the real Cold War (late 50′s, early 60′s) knew about the evil Russkies anyway. Labor camps, secret police, no freedom to speak or write or believe. My only faint memory of the book is the mind-numbing repetition–maybe that was Solzhenitsyn’s way of telling us something about the whole Soviet system.

    I’m still trying to figure out what the mind-numbing repetition of Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest was supposed to teach us.

  13. Mommie Dearest on August 5, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    I remember reading Gulag when I was in high school. I didn\’t know then that I didn\’t comprehend it fully, I wasn\’t hard to just follow the narrative. I still have the gray paperback somewhere. I have kept a quote from Solzhenitsyn in a little frame for years. It\’s currently located on a bathroom shelf:

    \” Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the 20th century, and more than anywhere else, this disease is reflected in the press.\”

    I don\’t know when he wrote this, but I like to think it was during the time he lived in the U.S.

  14. Adam Greenwood on August 5, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Gulag just confirmed what all of us who grew up during the real Cold War (late 50’s, early 60’s) knew about the evil Russkies anyway. Labor camps, secret police, no freedom to speak or write or believe

    Even books that give aid and comfort to yokel Americans can be of some slight value.

  15. KTB on August 12, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    His legacy is tarnished by the fact that he failed to recognize Putin as the reincarnation of all he fought against. (\”Soviet Lite\” as #10 put it.)

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