On the literary works of Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_1974cropGary Saul Morson at The New Criterion:

In Russia, history is too important to leave to the historians. Great novelists must show how people actually lived through events and reveal their moral significance. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained in his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, literature transmits “condensed and irrefutable human experience” in a form that “defies distortion and falsehood. Thus literature . . . preserves and protects a nation’s soul.”

The latest Solzhenitsyn book to appear in English, March 1917, focuses on the great turning point of Russian, indeed world, history: the Russian Revolution.1 Just a century ago, that upheaval and the Bolshevik coup eight months later ushered in something entirely new and uniquely horrible. Totalitarianism, as invented by Lenin and developed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others, aspired to control every aspect of life, to redesign the earth and to remake the human soul. As a result, the environment suffered unequaled devastation and tens of millions of lives were lost in the Soviet Union alone. Solzhenitsyn, who spent the years 1945 to 1953 as a prisoner in the labor camp system known as the Gulag archipelago, devoted his life to showing just what happened so it could not be forgotten. One death is a tragedy but a million is a statistic, Stalin supposedly remarked, but Solzhenitsyn makes us envision life after ruined life. He aimed to shake the conscience of the world, and he succeeded, at least for a time.

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