Soviet Dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn Dead at 89

August 03, 2008 11:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer who revealed the horrors of the Soviet gulag, has died in Moscow of heart failure at the age of 89.

30-Second Summary

Solzhenitsyn's role as a dissident began in 1945, when he was arrested while fighting in World War II, for criticizing Joseph Stalin in a letter. He was sentenced to eight years in exile in the wasteland of Central Russia.

It was at there that he witnessed the abuses of the Russian prison system firsthand.

His first novel, "A day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch," appeared in Russian in 1962 and in English a year later. It was followed by two short stories published in book form.

He was expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union in 1969 after he denounced state censorship. A year later he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but refrained from traveling to Oslo to attend the award ceremony as he was afraid he wouldn't be allowed to return to Russia.

The first parts of his most famous work, “The Gulag Archipelago,” an account of Russia's labor camps, were published in Paris in December 1973, having been smuggled out of the country. A mixture of Solzhenitsyn’s personal experiences and the interviews he conducted with other prisoners during his time in exile—which he memorized while in the gulag—the book attracted tremendous attention in the West. It changed the way many people felt about the USSR.

On Feb. 12, 1974, seven KGB agents took Solzhenitsyn from his home in Moscow and transported him to Lefortovo Prison, “familiar to readers of Gulag as one of the most terrible of Russia's prisons,” according to Time magazine.

There, he was strip-searched, interrogated for hours, and told he would face the death penalty. The next day Solzhenitsyn was flown to Frankfurt, Germany. A day later, the Soviet Union formally expelled him on charges of treason.

In 1976, Solzhenitsyn moved to the United States where he lived a life of privacy in Vermont.  He experienced a triumphant return to Russia in 1994, with a 56-day train trip across Russia to become reacquainted with his countrymen.   He lived in Russia through his death on August 3, 2008.

Speaking to German news magazine Der Spiegel last year, Solzhenitsyn reflected on how his country should confront its Soviet past: "We should clearly understand that only the voluntary and conscientious acceptance by a people of its guilt can ensure the healing of a nation. Unremitting reproaches from outside, on the other hand, are counterproductive."

Headline Link: Solzhenitsyn Dead at 89

Biography: Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)

Background: Solzhenitsyn Through the Years

Related Topics: Solzhenitsyn in His Own Words

Nobel Prize speech
Harvard Commencement
2007 Der Spiegel interview

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines