On this day in 1918, Russian writer and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, Russia, to Taisia and Isaaki Solzhenitsyn, parents of peasant stock who had received a university education. When he died in 2008 near Moscow, Solzhenitsyn had published his monumental Gulag Archipelago and other literary and historical works — which continue to appear in English for the first time.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting Acton archival material and new writings and media on the blog to mark this great man’s life and legacy.
In their introduction to The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005 (ISI Books, 2006), editors Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney describe Solzhenitsyn as “the most eloquent scourge of ideology in the twentieth century.” They observed that the writer’s “work and witness teach us that the true alternative to revolutionary utopianism is not post-modern nihilism but gratitude for the givenness of the world and a determined but patient effort to correct injustices within it.” They noted that Solzhenitsyn’s life was rich with paradoxes:
A small-town high school teacher, Solzhenitsyn reached the pinnacle of world fame. He earned enthusiastic acclaim worldwide for the power of his literature, kudos for his courage in standing up to a criminally unjust regime, and recognition for his vital role in changing the course of history. He also was viciously attacked, at home and abroad, as few writers of any time have been. He passed many of his prime years caught up in a whirlwind of controversial activity that deprived him of the quiet solitude necessary for a writer and threatened his very survival. Amid the exceptional flux of his life, one thing remained constant: He remained committed to exploring the subject he had chosen in youth as the topic of his magnum opus, namely, the Bolshevik Revolution and its causes. Yet here, too, paradox reigned, for his attitude toward the revolution took a 180-degree turn.
Below is the video of the Solzhenitsyn Reader book launch with remarks by Daniel Mahoney and the late Ed Ericson. If you’re looking for a one volume collection of Solzhenitsyn writings to get started, this is it.
Home page photo: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn speaks to reporters in West Germany, shortly after his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974. Wiki commons