Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of fiction and history written in the 20th century, died late on Sunday, his son Yermolai said early on Monday. He said the cause was a heart ailment. He was 89.
Evocative: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Solzhenitsyn outlived by nearly 17 years the state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile. Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The book, a mould-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly he was being compared with giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekov.
Over the next four decades, Solzhenitsyn’s fame spread throughout the world as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative novels like The First Circle and The Cancer Ward and historical works like The Gulag Archipelago.
Gulag was a monumental account and analysis of the Soviet labour camp system, a chain of prisons that by Solzhenitsyn’s calculation some 60 million people had entered during the 20th century. The book led to his expulsion from his native land.
With his stern visage, lofty brow and full, Old Testament beard, he recalled Tolstoy while suggesting a modern-day Jeremiah, denouncing the evils of the Kremlin and later the mores of the West. More than 30 million of his books have been sold worldwide and translated into some 40 languages. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES