Thursday, May 27, 2021

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (2): Author, Exile, Anachronism

 Author (1962-2008)

After a year of various struggles, Tvardovsky managed to publish One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was soon translated, published, and distributed throughout the West. Solzhenitsyn became famous inside and outside the Soviet Union. The following year, Tvardovsky published other stories by Solzhenitsyn.

In 1964, Leonid Brezhnev wrested power over the Soviet government from Nikita Khrushchev and sent him into retirement. He rejected Krushchev’s willingness to see challenging stories published. No other works by Solzhenitsyn were printed in the USSR until it neared collapse.

Still, Solzhenitsyn kept writing. He finished The First Circle (1964), Cancer Ward (1967) and, after ten years of work, The Gulag Archipelago (1968). He finished the latter only by working on it intensely and in secret for seven months in Estonia. All of these books circulated in the Soviet Union in underground copies. Outside, Cancer Ward and an edited version of The First Circle were published in Paris (1968). Publication in many other languages followed immediately.

The fight was on. Brezhnev would have Solzhenitsyn silenced. Solzhenitsyn would have the truth about the Soviet system made known to Soviet citizens and the world.

The Union of Writers of the USSR expelled Solzhenitsyn in 1969. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 but did not travel to Sweden to receive it. He was afraid that, if he left the USSR, he would not be allowed back in. With nowhere else to live, Solzhenitsyn had to take shelter in the home of friend and world-class cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. There he continued writing The Red Wheel, a saga describing the transition from the Russian Empire to the Soviet Union, which he had started in 1969.

In addition to sheltering Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich also sent letters supporting him to major Soviet newspapers. For all his efforts to help his friend, he was punished: forbidden to tour outside the Soviet Union and severely limited inside.

August 1914, the first volume of The Red Wheel, was published in Paris in 1971. Later that same year, a KGB agent poisoned Solzhenitsyn. He suffered painful side effects for three months but survived the attack.

Elizaveta Voronyanskaya typed the manuscript of The Gulag Archipelago for Solzhenitsyn. He sent microfilmed copies of the manuscript to Paris and New York for publication abroad; however, he wanted the book first published, from his manuscript, in the Soviet Union. Before that became possible, KGB agents demanded the manuscript from Voronyanskaya. She refused to hand it over. They tortured her until she told them where it was. Afterward she was found in her apartment, hanged (1973).

Following the publication abroad of The Gulag Archipelago, Brezhnev launched a media campaign to limit Solzhenitsyn’s influence by assassinating his character. On February 12, 1974, he was also arrested, stripped of citizenship, and deported. He released a short essay, “Live Not by Lies,” in response.

Exile (1974-94)

He first received asylum in West Germany and stayed with German novelist Heinrich Bolle (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1972). Six weeks later he reunited with his family in Switzerland. He was finally able to travel to Sweden to accept his Nobel Prize. He and his family then moved to California where Solzhenitsyn did extensive research at the Hoover Institution for his saga of The Red Wheel.

The Solzhenitsyn family finally settled in a small village in the rural state of Vermont (1976-1994). There Solzhenitsyn worked diligently and in relative seclusion on The Red Wheel saga. He saw it published in four parts: August 1914 (1971, 1984), October 1916 (1985), March 1917 (1989, 2017), and April 1917 (ca 1991, not yet translated into English).

From his rural seclusion, Solzhenitsyn would occasionally emerge to give speeches. He once traveled to Harvard University to address a group of graduates (1978). His speech was later published as “A World Split Apart.” In it he did not repeat his criticisms of the Soviet Union; instead, he pointed out some Western weaknesses.

Anachronism (1994-2008)

Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in May 1994, traveled across the country by train starting in Vladivostok, made stops and talked with ordinary Russians all along the way, and arrived in Moscow in July. The political, social, economic, and cultural decay he witnessed distressed him. The new Russian government provided him with a house and dacha in Moscow.

He briefly hosted a bi-weekly television talk show (1995). It was cancelled because of his constant criticism of current Russian politics, society, and culture. He eventually published his critical comments in Russia in Collapse (1998). He wrote about the future of Russia in Rebuilding Russia (1990) and The Russian Question (1995).

Solzhenitsyn published his memoirs, The Oak and the Calf (expanded edition, 1996), of life in the Soviet Union. He later added Between Two Millstones (English translation, Book 1, 2018; Book 2, 2020), about his life in the West.

His book, Two Hundred Years Together (2003; published in English as The Crucifixion of Russia, 2017), was about Jews in Russia from the late 1700s, when the partitions of Poland suddenly brought large numbers of Jews into the Russian Empire; until the late 1900s, when large numbers of Jews emigrated to Israel.

Late in life, Solzhenitsyn worked on the definitive editions of his works. He died on August 3, 2008 (aged 89), of heart disease.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Biographical,” The Nobel Prize. Retrieved May 24, 2021.

“Biography,” The Alexander Solzhenitsyn Center. Retrieved May 24, 2021.

“Timeline,” The Alexander Solzhenitsyn Center. Retrieved May 24, 2021.

Michael T. Kaufman, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Literary Giant Who Defied Soviets, Dies at 89,” New York Times, August 4, 2008.

Georgy Manaev, “5 Reasons You Must Know Alexander Solzhenitsyn,” Russia Beyond. Retrieved May 24, 2021.