Solzhenitsyn's Life "Difficult but Happy"


(AP Photo/Bernhard Frye) :: In this Nov. 16, 1974 picture, AlexanderSolzhenitsyn gives his first news conference in the West since being expelled from Russia earlier in the year, calling for a campaign of passive resistance to Communist rule and ideology, at his home in Zurich. Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel prize-winning chronicler of the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, died late Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008, according to his son. He was 89.


Updated: 8/4/2008

MOSCOW

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books exposed and chronicled the vast network of Stalin's slave labor camps, lived ''a difficult but happy life,'' his family said. The author's son, Stepan Solzhenitsyn, told The Associated Press his father died late Sunday of heart failure at age 89.

Solzhenitsyn's unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union's gulag of camps riveted his countrymen, whose sad secret history he helped expose. Those accounts earned him 20 years of bitter exile, but international renown.

And they inspired millions, perhaps, with the knowledge that one person's courage and integrity could help defeat the totalitarian machinery of an empire.

His wife, Natalya, told the Interfax news agency that her husband, who suffered along with millions of Russians in the prison camp system, died as he had hoped to die.

''He wanted to die in the summer — and he died in the summer,'' she said. ''He wanted to die at home — and he died at home. In general I should say that Alexander Isaevich lived a difficult but happy life.''

Solzhenitsyn's death inspired many tributes, including one from the man who dismantled the last of the gulag camps in the 1980s, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

''Solzhenitsyn's fate, as well as the fate of millions of the country's citizens, was befallen by severe trials,'' Gorbachev said, according to Interfax. ''He was one of the first who spoke aloud about the inhuman Stalinist regime and about the people who experienced it but were not broken.''

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a veteran of the Soviet KGB, nevertheless forged a close relationship with the fiercely patriotic Solzhenitsyn.

Solzhenitsyn's literary achievements, as well as ''the entire thorny path of his life,'' Putin said in a statement, ''will remain for us an example of genuine devotion and selfless serving to the people, fatherland and the ideals of freedom, justice and humanism.''

Beginning with the 1962 short novel ''One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,'' Solzhenitsyn devoted himself to describing what he called the human ''meat grinder'' that had caught him along with millions of other Soviet citizens: capricious arrests, often for trifling and seemingly absurd reasons, followed by sentences to slave labor camps where cold, starvation and punishing work crushed inmates physically and spiritually.

His ''Gulag Archipelago'' trilogy of the 1970s left readers shocked by the savagery of the Soviet state under the dictator Josef Stalin.

But his account of that secret system of prison camps was also inspiring in its description of how one person — Solzhenitsyn himself — survived, physically and spiritually, in a penal system of soul-crushing hardship and injustice.

His first book was ''One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,'' the story of a carpenter struggling to survive in a Soviet labor camp. The book was published by order of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was eager to discredit the abuses of Stalin, his predecessor.

After Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, Solzhenitsyn faced KGB harassment, publication of his works was blocked and he was expelled from the Soviet Writers Union. But he was undeterred from writing.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, an unusual move for the Swedish Academy, which generally makes awards late in an author's life.

Soviet authorities barred the author from traveling to Stockholm to receive the award and official attacks were intensified in 1973 when the first book in the ''Gulag'' trilogy appeared in Paris.

The following year, he was arrested on treason charges and expelled the next day to West Germany in handcuffs. His expulsion inspired worldwide condemnation of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Solzhenitsyn eventually moved to America, settling in the tiny town of Cavendish, Vt., with his wife and sons, for the next 18 years. There he worked on what he considered to be his life's work, a multi-volume saga of Russian history titled ''The Red Wheel.''

The West offered him shelter and accolades. But Solzhenitsyn's refusal to bend despite enormous pressure also gave him the courage to criticize Western culture for what he considered its weakness and decadence.

Gorbachev restored Solzhenitsyn's citizenship in 1990 and the treason charge was finally dropped in 1991, less than a month after the failed Soviet coup.

After a triumphant return that included a 56-day train trip across Russia to become reacquainted with his native land, Solzhenitsyn later expressed annoyance and disappointment that most Russians hadn't read his books.

During the 1990s, his stalwart nationalist views, his devout Orthodoxy, his disdain for capitalism and disgust with the tycoons who bought Russian industries and resources for kopeks on the ruble following the Soviet collapse, were unfashionable. He faded from public view.

But during Putin's presidency, Solzhenitsyn's vision of Russia as a bastion of Orthodox Christianity, as a place with a unique culture and destiny, gained renewed prominence.

Solzhenitsyn is survived by his wife, Natalya, and his three sons, Stepan, Ignat and Yermolai. All live in the United States.

———

Correspondent Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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