Rest in peace, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one of the most famous Russian novelists of the 20th century, died near Moscow on Sunday at age 89. Here is a link to his obituary in the New York Times.

I studied Russian literature in college, and Solzhenitsyn was never my favorite. His books didn’t affect me like the work of another famous dissident, Andrei Sinyavskii, who wrote under the pseudonym Abram Tertz. He wasn’t as inventive a writer as Vladimir Nabokov. I still prefer Yuri Trifonov as a chronicler of everyday Soviet life (especially the novellas “The Exchange” and “The House on the Embankment”).

But Solzhenitsyn’s novels about Soviet prison camps and other extraordinary features of Soviet society made an incalculable contribution to world culture. People will probably still be reading “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” centuries from now. “Cancer Ward” and “The First Circle” were also good novels, though not as famous as “The Gulag Archepelago.”

I didn’t care much for Solzhenitsyn’s politics, but I respect him for going back to live in post-Soviet Russia when he could have lived more comfortably in Vermont. He had great talent and worked hard to bring to light some very dark episodes in Soviet history. May he rest in peace.

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