the big boy


THE past year has been a bad one if you hold to the old-fashioned belief that the work of gifted writers constitutes a warning against forms of oppression, whether of the piously conventional or the totalitarian varieties. I assume that Norman Mailer (who died, aged 84, on November 10, 2007) held Alexander Solzhenitsyn in high regard, just as I imagine that Solzhenitsyn (who died, aged 89, on August 4) looked on Mailer as a decadent. But in retrospect we can see that the careers of the two writers were more in harmony than might appear. The American, it is true, burst on the literary scene as a wunderkind of sorts in 1948 with The Naked and the Dead; the older Russian had to wait until 1962 for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to plant his foot in similar style. But each established his reputation through his first publication, both were colossally ambitious (and egoistic in proportion), both became public figures (albeit in very different ways), both unexpectedly (indeed, reluctantly) found nonfiction to be their most effective medium, and for both their native land was an overwhelming obsession. (That Solzhenitsyn was as Russian as borsch goes without saying; but it is odd to note how uncosmopolitan both writers were. Mailer was well travelled but rarely wrote on non-American topics.)

more from The Australian here.