Nobel Winner Chronicled Tyranny of Soviet Union

Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was persecuted and imprisoned.
Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was persecuted and imprisoned.
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By J.Y. Smith
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, August 4, 2008

Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, 89, the Russian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature whose pitiless and searching chronicles of Soviet tyranny made him a symbol of freedom and the durability of the human spirit, died yesterday in Moscow.

A son told the Associated Press that he died of heart failure. Details were not immediately available.

Driven, principled, frequently arrogant, a bearded figure with the fierce visage of a prophet, Solzhenitsyn was regarded as one of the greatest and most influential writers of the 20th century.

Like Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the 19th century masters of Russian letters, his subject was considered to be the struggle between good and evil in the Russian soul. The line separating the two, he said, ran through every heart.

His text was the nightmare of Marxism-Leninism, and he exposed its flaws in ways from which it never recovered. The task he set for himself was no less than restoring to the Russian people the history of the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent years of communism that had been kept from them by their leaders.

In "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" and "The Gulag Archipelago," his acknowledged masterpieces, and a vast outpouring of other works, he chronicled the sufferings of his countrymen and bore lasting witness to the fate of millions of otherwise forgotten victims of Soviet misrule. Literature, he declared in his Nobel lecture, "is the living memory of a nation. It sustains within itself and safeguards a nation's bygone history.

"But woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force."

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Solzhenitsyn struggled against the Soviet leadership almost in the shadow of the Kremlin. In 1974, he was charged with treason and exiled to the West, where he received a hero's welcome, although his attacks on Western culture and politics drew detractors.

After leaving the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn lived in Zurich and then in Cavendish, Vt., where he spent what he described as some of his happiest years, working in peace in surroundings that reminded him of home.

In 1994, having completed "The Red Wheel," a massive series of historical novels on the Russian Revolution, he attended a town meeting to thank his Yankee neighbors for their hospitality and returned to his beloved Russia, as he always believed he would.

Received as a national treasure, he made a triumphant whistle-stop cross-country train trip. But in later television appearances he was viewed as gloomy and out of touch, and he retreated to his Moscow home.

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