CAVENDISH, VT. -- High above town along Windy Hill Road, just beyond the gash of the power lines and the graveyard in the hillside, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's perimeter fence begins. Every few yards, painted signs declare private property, brook no trespassing. At the gate, a camera's eye is vigilant. A mountain stream crashes along somewhere in the trees, and the wind blows, but there is no whisper of human presence.

Soviet Russia's most prominent exile bought and fortified this 50-acre estate in 1976. The Nobel laureate's dramatic expulsion from Moscow two years before, and the erratic movements and blunt pronouncements in the West that followed, had turned him into journalistic flypaper. Today, though his novelty has worn off, Solzhenitsyn is still beleaguered, not just by the remnants of a curious press, but by rubberneckers and well-wishers and assorted pilgrims, buzzing at the gate.

But he must husband his time. Solzhenitsyn will turn 70 next year. He does not consider it dumb luck that he survived the privations of Joseph Stalin's labor camps or that he vanquished a harsh cancer 30 years ago. But he knows his mission to warn the world against communism does not carry an indefinite term. And he has work to do.

Thus the motive of his seclusion, and of his polite refusal (tendered by his wife, Natalia Svetlova) of all but a few interviews, including one proposed for this article.

There is this, too: The year he moved to Cavendish, in a conversation with one of his publishers, Solzhenitsyn observed that he had set the action of his novels in closed institutions -- labor camps in "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," a prison research facility in "The First Circle," a clinic in "Cancer Ward," not to mention "The Gulag Archipelago" -- because he had spent so much of his life in confinement. It is the world he knows. Years later, a free man in the land of the free, he has chosen a confinement of his own making.

Such confusing and ironic messages about Solzhenitsyn are characteristic of the man and his aura.

Westerners, and certainly Americans, thought they knew the living myth who settled among them: resilient survivor of Stalinist slavery and Brezhnevian repression; authentic voice of the Russian heartland and exponent of its folkways; visionary David poised against the clumsy Goliath of the Soviet lie.

Once he was clasped to the Western bosom, however, more discomfiting truths were added. Solzhenitsyn thought American society, too, was bankrupt -- small-minded, soulless, self-indulgent and perilously indifferent to the Soviet menace. He was a monarchist of sorts, a reactionary, a mystic. And he turned out to be little inclined to join the dance of American publicity.

That he has been misunderstood, repeatedly, is certain. But he has not been helpless or even idle in the shaping of his enigmatic public persona. There is method in the stony silence he projects, a message in the long beard on the long face.

Referring recently to the news media and those interested parties who speak through them, he said: "They lie about me as they would about a dead man." He has, it is true, achieved the misty stature of the departed. Even though his output continues to be prodigious, he is more remembered than read -- and remembered as much for what he endured as for what he wrote, or writes.

In a couple of weeks, the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States will meet on their figurative mountaintop. No matter what agreements he may reach with President Reagan, for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev the summit will be an occasion for making impressions. Most Americans, like most Russians, want to believe that glasnost and perestroika, the new "openness" and "restructuring" of Soviet society that Gorbachev wears as epaulets of his good intentions, are for real.

It has even been suggested that, if Gorbachev means what he says, the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn might be published in the Soviet Union for the first time in more than two decades. Some of his fellow e'migre's believe Solzhenitsyn is silent for that purpose, too: that he not jeopardize the best chance for his return to the motherland, in word if not in deed.

On this question, Solzhenitsyn has spoken quite recently, in the lofty and peremptory manner the world has come to expect.

"I cannot go back before my books," he said. "First the books must return, then me."

The Solzhenitsyns of Vermont

Secure and anonymous, the wooded estate in Cavendish is "the perfect place to disappear into the landscape," as it has been described by Michael Scammell, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's biographer and onetime translator. But family and friends take vigorous exception to the common characterization of Solzhenitsyn as a recluse.

A Russian e'migre' who was a recent overnight visitor to the Solzhenitsyn estate describes the family quarters and the author's nearby office as a bustling place, an informal nerve center for the diaspora of Russian e'migre's in Europe and the United States. Phone calls are unremitting, and guests are common.

"In principle, we are very outgoing people," Natalia Solzhenitsyn told the state-run quarterly Vermont Life four years ago. "Hardly a weekend goes by that we don't have someone visiting, and every summer friends come from Europe to spend several weeks, and that's not to speak of the contacts with translators and publishers."

The author's second wife and mother of his three teen-aged sons heads the so-called Russian Social Fund, endowed with royalties from Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago," that assists political prisoners inside the Soviet Union and dissidents in exile.

The author himself rises early every morning and withdraws -- sometimes until late in the evening -- to his study, a book-lined space on the top floor of a three-story annex the Solzhenitsyns built soon after they bought the property in 1976. (The building also houses a vast library and a small chapel, where a Russian Orthodox priest from a nearby church conducts private religious services for the family.)

Solzhenitsyn's work in progress is the eight-volume history of the Russian revolution he calls "The Red Wheel." Like "Gulag," which he subtitled "an experiment in literary investigation," the series is a kind of documentary fiction, combining meticulous historical research with the novelist's license of selectivity and juxtaposition.

"The Red Wheel" is a project of staggering proportions. In its scope and ambition, it has been likened to what is in fact a much shorter book, Tolstoy's "War and Peace."

The first installment, a portion of the first volume, appeared in this country in 1972 as "August 1914." According to Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, U.S. publishers of the series, the full 1,000-page version of "August 1914," revised by the author and finally translated to his liking, will appear in the United States next September.

English-language publication of the next volume ("October 1916," 1,200 pages) is at least a year and a half away, Straus says. The first half (1,500 pages) of the next volume, "March 1917," will follow.

All of those books have appeared in Russian-language editions already, and in French and German besides. Translation delays and the author's exacting standards are said to account for the substantial lag in English-language publication, although meager sales of the extant volumes in Europe contribute mightily to the patience of Solzhenitsyn's publishers here.

Meanwhile, Solzhenitsyn is said to be finishing "April 1917."

"The Red Wheel," however, is not the author's exclusive preoccupation. With the help of his wife, his mother-in-law and his sons (the older two, Ermolai, 16, and Ignat, 15, attended nearby public schools but now are studying in England; the youngest, Stepan, 14, is still at home), Solzhenitsyn has been amassing a vast archive of testimony about 20th-century Russia.

Ten years ago, he issued a call for accounts of witnesses to the 1917 revolution and the ensuing civil war, and of survivors of World War II and the Stalin era, promising to publish the most significant of them as the "All-Russian Memoir Library." Hundreds of memoirs have arrived and been catalogued under the Solzhenitsyns' auspices. Together with a companion series of scholarly research on modern Russian history, the published materials have filled 16 volumes to date.

The Solzhenitsyns, in effect, are running a publishing house, with photocopiers, word processors, IBM typesetting machines and bookbinding equipment all on the premises, operated chiefly by family members. (The finished books are issued by Solzhenitsyn's Russian-language publisher, YMCA Press in Paris.) At the center of the publishing enterprise, of course, are the collected works of the patriarch, another 16 volumes strong and counting.

Solzhenitsyn stays current, his friends and visitors say, by reading such e'migre' publications as Novoye Russkoye Slovo (New Russian Word) and by listening to the radio, chiefly the overseas newscasts of the BBC and the Voice of America -- the same sources of information he has relied upon since the early 1950s, when he was in the sharashka, or prison research institute, depicted in "The First Circle."

Solzhenitsyn must have a powerful radio receiver to pick up signals not intended for domestic consumption -- an indication of his keen interest in hearing what his fellow Russians inside Soviet borders can hear on their radios.

These days, they can hear Solzhenitsyn himself. In mid-October, for the second time since he settled in the United States, he spent two full days taping selections from "March 1917." Broken into 20-minute segments by the Voice of America, daily broadcasts of his animated narrations are reaching as many as 33 million people inside the Soviet Union.

(As it happens, Solzhenitsyn's last readings for the VOA -- from "August 1914," in 1985 -- stirred some of the harshest attacks against him since his denunciations of the West at Harvard University's commencement exercises in 1978. The book, it was said, confirmed suspicions that Solzhenitsyn is an anti-Semite. The debate that followed, predictably, was inconclusive. Classic Russian nationalism is deeply chauvinistic, hostile to ethnic minorities of any kind, and certain passages from "August 1914" cannot escape that characterization. On the other hand, Natalia Solzhenitsyn is half-Jewish; one American Jew who deals frequently with Solzhenitsyn says he has never detected a "whisper" of anti-Semitism in the man; and a number of prominent scholars, including Commentary's Norman Podhoretz, have defended him against the charge.)

Solzhenitsyn seems to have better connections with the other side of the globe than he does with Cavendish. Not long after he settled in this former mill town in southeastern Vermont -- because the climate and terrain reminded him of home, he said -- Solzhenitsyn appeared at a town meeting and apologized for building the fence around his property, which had inconvenienced hunters and snowmobilers accustomed to roaming freely through the woods.

"No doubt the fence cannot protect me against Soviet agents," he told the people of Cavendish, but it served to protect him from unwanted visitors who arrived "without invitations and without warning ... And so for hundreds of hours I talked to hundreds of people, and my work was ruined."

His neighbors, in turn, seem to respect his need for privacy. Townspeople queried by a journalist convey studied nonchalance about the Nobel laureate in their midst, claiming not to have seen him for years (reportedly the family prefers to shop at a mall some distance from Cavendish), not even to know where the Solzhenitsyn place might be.

When James Jeffords, Vermont's Republican congressman, first visited the Solzhenitsyns in Cavendish, he recalls losing his way. When he stopped to ask for directions, "I got the typical Vermont response -- there was absolutely no attempt to direct me to the house" until he told them who he was. "People are very protective of them."

Since 1980, the author has seldom strayed from his compound. Two years ago, after the Solzhenitsyns announced their intention to become naturalized U.S. citizens, only Natalia showed up. Her husband was "not feeling well," but he has never rescheduled the event.

Solzhenitsyn's research has taken him to Yale, Stanford and Columbia, and he has been spotted around Vermont from time to time. Earlier this year he and his wife attended a local orchestra performance that featured a piano solo by Ignat Solzhenitsyn. At a bookstore in Montpelier, the state capital, a college student recognized the author, approached him and asked if he were not Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In his halting English, he is reported to have said, "No, I only look like him."

Those who have been past the gates of the Solzhenitsyn estate agree that the family lives simply. A recent visitor describes the house as "functional" and "austere."

"It is fairy tales when people write that it's a castle," says Veronika Stein, an exile and friend of the Solzhenitsyn family. "They are very modest." Of the tennis court where Solzhenitsyn plays, Stein says: "It was his dream in his youth." Of the chain-link fence about which so much has been made, she says: "You can buy it in Sears."

Stein sympathizes with the family's insistence on privacy. "So many times there were wrong articles about them," she says. She wants it to be known that the Solzhenitsyns "are living a real life. Not as all of us. They always do something which has a great meaning. I think we cannot say that about our lives, eh? Our life is not so full as their life."

Who Reads Solzhenitsyn?

In his comic novel "Moscow 2042," published here last spring, the Russian e'migre' novelist Vladimir Voinovich depicts an eccentric, imperious writer named Sim Simych Karnavalov, an unmistakable caricature of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose hefty books are invariably called "slabs."

In one scene, a television interviewer confronts Karnavalov with the criticism that no one reads his books any longer.

"It's not that they don't read them," the author replies indignantly, "it's that they don't finish them. And others lie, saying they have when they haven't."

The interviewer persists: "But there are people who finish them, but don't share your ideas."

"Nonsense!" Karnavalov shoots back. "I speak the truth and only the truth ... If the world doesn't heed what I say ... there'll be nothing good about the future."

The scene, like the book as a whole, has an antic quality, but truth does lurk in the shadows of the satire. For a man who insists that his books are all that matter -- and whose earliest books were international sensations -- the indifferent reception of Solzhenitsyn's work today must be deeply discouraging.

As a literary artist, Solzhenitsyn has left behind the genre that earned him comparisons to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, a wide and admiring readership and the Nobel Prize: "Ivan Denisovich," "The First Circle," "Cancer Ward." With religious purpose he has bent himself in exile to the task of producing sprawling historical epics -- finishing "The Gulag Archipelago," then embarking on the "Red Wheel" cycle.

Meanwhile, in his public role -- as the author of what the Soviets call publisistika, or pronouncements of opinion -- he has launched jeremiads against the Soviet leadership and Marxist-Leninist ideology, damned the West for failing to appreciate the Soviet threat and rejected the democratic model in his vision of an ideal Russia.

When he is answered -- as he has been, vigorously -- Solzhenitsyn becomes indignant, complaining bitterly that he is being misunderstood, or even slandered. In 1983, according to his wife, he decided "he had said everything he wanted to say in publicistics" and -- with rare exceptions, such as the recent interview with Der Spiegel in which he lamented being discussed like "a dead man" -- has said very little since.

John Garrard, a Solzhenitsyn scholar at the University of Arizona, observes that "he seems to have dropped out of sight. In the West, if you drop out of sight, you get ignored." One of his American publishers, Simon Michael Bessie of Harper & Row, describes Solzhenitsyn as "a masterly figure who is probably very little read at the moment."

Vassily Aksyonov, an e'migre' novelist who lives in Washington, grieves that Solzhenitsyn has "abandoned fiction." According to Richard Pipes, the Harvard University historian, who admires the early novels, "there are flashes of remarkable imagination in what he does {now}, but I see him as progressively less of a writer and more of a political pamphleteer, and I regret that very much."

Boris Shragin, an e'migre' who writes commentaries for Radio Liberty, finds Solzhenitsyn's post-expulsion work "very hard to read. It is endless. Sometimes it is impossible even to understand." In Russian e'migre' circles, the striking difference between Solzhenitsyn's work pre- and post-expulsion has spawned a cruel joke -- "that the Communists kept Solzhenitsyn in prison," as one writer in exile tells it, "and sent the West the wrong man."

International fame and forced exile, Pipes comments, have given Solzhenitsyn "a sense of mission that he has to enlighten the West, but he goes about it in a very heavy-handed way. Westerners are not accustomed to this. When a man comes out and says 'I know the truth,' Russians like it. But this prophetic stance turns Westerners off."

John Dunlop, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the editor of two scholarly books on Solzhenitsyn, reaches the same conclusion more gently. "For the narrow circle of true literary critics -- that is, people who read Russian and who are versed in Russian literature -- his reputation remains quite high." To the degree that Solzhenitsyn has lost his following, Dunlop says, "the reason is largely political."

Harper & Row's Bessie describes the first volume of "The Gulag Archipelago" as "a phenomenon ... People certainly knew about the camps before the publication of 'Gulag' but 'Gulag' made it real and undeniable. By the time we got to volumes two and three, people felt they knew what they had to know about it."

Sales figures bear this out: Harper & Row printed more than 3 million copies, hardcover and paperback combined, of the first volume (1974); fewer than 900,000 of the second (1975); and 120,000 of the third (1978). Bessie calls this "an irony" because the third volume, he says, is "the most accessible of the three." The same might be said for "The Oak and the Calf," Solzhenitsyn's engaging autobiography, whose publication here in 1980 went almost unnoticed.

Because his books are not published in the Soviet Union, it is difficult to measure Solzhenitsyn's standing in his homeland. "He's very much alive over there," says the Hoover Institution's Dunlop. Voinovich, who now lives in Munich, reports that Russians remain intensely curious about Solzhenitsyn -- to some degree because his books have been denied them.

Tomas Venclova, who teaches Russian at Yale University, doesn't doubt that Solzhenitsyn's books are finding their way into the Soviet Union. "But I doubt they are read there with the same attention as his early works -- because of the decline of literary quality, because these are not contemporary but historical novels, and because the message is very conservative, rightist and religious. ... The status of his later work is larger in e'migre' circles."

Solzhenitsyn, remarks Garrard, "is still the darling of the Russian nationalists, but the mass of the Soviet population doesn't know much about him." Ellendea Proffer, who runs the largest Russian-language book publishing house outside the Soviet Union in Ann Arbor, Mich., recently returned from this fall's Moscow Book Fair. "Nobody asked about the {'Red Wheel'} series," she says.

"He's sort of passe'," Pipes agrees, "but nevertheless a very great figure in Russian literature."

That last sentiment almost goes without saying -- that is, even his critics and detractors make a point to stress their belief that Solzhenitsyn is a transcendently important literary figure and already, in his own lifetime, a historic one.

Sergei Dovlatov, a noted e'migre' writer in New York, also notes a decline in Solzhenitsyn's work. But, he says, "I feel gratitude to him because of his role in Russian culture. {By his example} Solzhenitsyn forced many people to be writers."

To Dovlatov, Solzhenitsyn is no different from other great writers whose reputations wax and wane. "My generation of writers likes to say Hemingway was not a genius, was a bad writer, and so on. But every time I hear this I am angry, because Hemingway is dead and he is not changing, but we are changing. It's not his fault that I am changing."

Solzhenitsyn's books, remarks Bessie, "are landmarks, not only for what they disclosed about life in the Soviet Union, but for the power of his vision. That doesn't necessarily mean that people are reading them. If you want to be cynical about it, you could almost say that's the characteristic of a giant."

"In the final analysis," Natalia Solzhenitsyn wrote in a letter declining The Washington Post's request for an interview, "Solzhenitsyn's true 'place' will be determined" not by scholars, writers and publishers in the West, but by the author's fellow Russians "when everything Solzhenitsyn has written becomes accessible to them.

"Clearly, that time has not yet come."

Glasnost and the Exile

Whatever the fate of his reforms in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev will be remembered for one of the words he used to describe the spirit behind them -- glasnost, variously translated as openness, publicity or disclosure.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, however, used it long before.

Eighteen years ago, when the Soviet writers union expelled Solzhenitsyn from its Ryazan local, the author wrote (and circulated to Western news correspondents) a blistering letter of protest.

"Glasnost, honest and complete," he wrote in its conclusion, "that is the prime condition for the health of every society, and ours too. ... The man who does not want glasnost for his fatherland does not want to cleanse it of its diseases, but to drive them inside, so they may rot there."

His partisans are quick to cite Solzhenitsyn's prescient, and even prophetic, use of glasnost and even perestroika -- words he did not invent, but whose current reformist implications he and other dissidents of the late 1960s helped define.

"There's a certain logic to it," says Peter Reddaway, who directs the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington. "Glasnost is a term which, in a sense, means freedom of expression. The dissidents were asking for something logical and a leader has come along who's prepared to give them some of it."

Some -- but how much? That, of course, is the question of the hour. And the question has particular poignancy for Solzhenitsyn, both as a maker of literature and as an engine of publisistika.

Last February, a Soviet editor named Sergei Zalygin hinted to a foreign journalist that the Nobel laureate's work might again be published in the Soviet Union. Coming from the editor of Novy Mir, the prestigious Moscow literary journal that boldly introduced the unknown Solzhenitsyn to the world 25 years ago by publishing "Ivan Denisovich," the notion seemed almost plausible.

After all, Solzhenitsyn's first novel had been published through the direct intervention of Nikita Khrushchev, the last Soviet leader to encourage a degree of candor about the country's darkest years. In the full bloom of Gorbachev's glasnost, the publication of "Cancer Ward" (whose indictments are oblique, and directed at repressions of the now-distant Stalin era) seemed no longer unthinkable.

Within days, Soviet authorities -- even Zalygin's deputy at Novy Mir -- were squelching the rumor, attributing it to a "a major mixup, maybe in translation." But the incident looked like a trial balloon of sorts, or at the least a signal that the mention of Solzhenitsyn's name was no longer taboo.

For his own part, the author was highly skeptical of the rumor, or so he told his publisher Roger Straus at the time. Still, he could not have been unmoved by the possibility Zalygin raised. The repatriation of his work, if not of his person, is his fervent aspiration. And for some other Russian writers, it is becoming a reality.

Recently, Novy Mir contracted with Farrar, Straus & Giroux to publish six poems by the e'migre' writer Joseph Brodsky, who last month became the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Solzhenitsyn in 1970. And the work of a previous Russian Nobel laureate, Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago," will be available in the Soviet Union again next year, for the first time in three decades.

What does Solzhenitsyn think of these developments as he watches from his Vermont aerie?

Alexis Klimoff, a Vassar College professor who has translated some of Solzhenitsyn's work and remains close to him, says, "I don't think he's holding his breath ... I don't think he has any illusions to that effect." Vassily Aksyonov, the novelist, believes that "he's absolutely sure that one day the readers over there will get a chance to read his stuff."

Yet as the self-appointed conscience of the Russian people, Solzhenitsyn raises questions by his silence -- a silence that cannot be dismissed as a mere artist's peccadillo, comparable to J.D. Salinger's obsessive reclusivity just a few miles across the border in New Hampshire. As Klimoff puts it, "it's a subject of great concern to e'migre's -- why is he not saying anything?"

"One would expect him to be very suspicious of these changes," comments Harvard's Pipes, who served the Reagan administration's first-term National Security Council. "He has warned about having illusions about the Soviet Union." Pipes speculates that "the admission {by the current Soviet leadership} of all kinds of errors in the past and the desire to move in a different direction have left him disoriented."

Still, there is reason to believe that Solzhenitsyn is cautiously optimistic about what he sees and hears. "He's following the developments with interest and not without some hope," according to the careful formulation of one who has visited the Solzhenitsyns in Cavendish.

Venclova, the Lithuanian e'migre' who teaches at Yale, says that if Solzhenitsyn has suspended his skepticism about Gorbachev's reforms, in part it may be because "Mr. Solzhenitsyn is a Russian nationalist, which I don't mean as a pejorative, and Mr. Gorbachev is an ethnic Russian" (unlike such predecessors as Stalin and Khrushchev). Venclova also notes that Solzhenitsyn and Gorbachev were both born in the Caucasus.

But because he realizes that "his reaction can influence others," Venclova says, Solzhenitsyn is careful to say nothing on the subject. "Any positive comment from Mr. Solzhenitsyn could help Mr. Gorbachev at home ... It's one of the reasons why Mr. Solzhenitsyn is silent: He is afraid to help the wrong man."

Claude Durand, Solzhenitsyn's Paris-based publisher and agent, disputes the premise of the author's "silence" -- " 'The Gulag Archipelago' is itself a battle against a much bigger silence." In any case, Durand says, "he is waiting. Glasnost and Gorbachev are very young phenomena, and it is premature to talk about them."

Dovlatov, who left the Soviet Union nine years ago, thinks there is even more method to Solzhenitsyn's silence.

The example of physicist Andrei Sakharov, who was freed from internal exile last Christmas and has since given his cautious approval of Gorbachev's reforms, cannot be lost on Solzhenitsyn, Dovlatov says.

"He is a very sophisticated strategist. He is waiting for some sign from the Soviet Union. He hopes to hear something from Gorbachev. They need him. He could be very useful for glasnost and perestroika."

The Survival of Hope

The notion that Gorbachev and Solzhenitsyn might reach a meeting of the minds sounds like some one-worlder's pipe dream, but Dovlatov, for one, says, "Why not? They are very different persons, but they are speaking in the same language. ... If we can imagine a conversation between Solzhenitsyn and Gorbachev, they could understand each other."

Bessie of Harper & Row, publishers of Solzhenitsyn's early novels and of Gorbachev's new book, "Perestroika," says he would like to publish Solzhenitsyn's response to the Soviet leader's book. "It would be interesting, wouldn't it?"

If Gorbachev "could get Solzhenitsyn over there and have him behave, it would be very helpful to him," says John Dunlop at Stanford. But he considers Solzhenitsyn to be "much tougher, much more opposed to the ideology" than, say, Sakharov.

Boris Shragin is even more skeptical. He notes dryly that Solzhenitsyn has offered the Soviet Union a deal: "they have to give up their Marxist ideology and take up Russian nationalist ideology."

Shragin's voice fills with sadness. "He is a very naive man," he says.

Naive or noble, this brooding presence in the Vermont woods has turned his extraordinary talent for literature to a task that is both transcendent and thankless: to the telling, and insistent retelling, of horrifying, cautionary truth; to being the hectoring conscience of people and nations.

"Every human being and any society (especially a democracy) tries to hope for the best; this is only natural," Solzhenitsyn wrote seven years ago in the magazine Foreign Affairs. "In the case of communism, there is simply nothing to hope for: no reconciliation with communist doctrine is possible."

With all he has seen and endured, it may be too much to ask that Solzhenitsyn be optimistic. But because it has succored him in many an hour of despair, he can probably appreciate the resilient quality of hope, particularly at this unusual juncture in history.

Robert Tucker, biographer of Joseph Stalin and professor emeritus at Princeton University, makes this observation: "As long as it stood immobile and in an obvious crisis of society, somehow or other Solzhenitsyn's obituary for Soviet Russia -- and you could think of his work as a kind of obituary -- seemed more relevant than it does now.

"His writing was a kind of lament for lost Russia. And maybe Russia isn't lost."