By refraining to speak of wickedness and concealing it deep within ourselves so that it will be unseen, we are in fact instilling it, and it will elicit a thousandfold more return in the days to come.
–Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
In March 2003, the world was shocked and awed by the sight of rockets lighting up the sky over Baghdad. At the same time, I was on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, taking advantage of my parents’ time-share and enjoying a peaceful holiday of swimming, eating and drinking.
Unfortunately, the war in Iraq started during my stay and I found myself spending evenings watching news reports of sandstorms and bombs exploding over palaces. This caused me such distress that it created physical symptoms, like jaw pains due to my unconscious teeth-grinding while sleeping.
When away from the television, I was finding solace in my books. Unfortunately, I had taken The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume “experiment in literary investigation” of the Soviet prison-camp system with me to St. Martin.
In the preface of the first volume he warned that he would not “be so bold as to try to write the history of the Archipelago” while the subsequent 1,800 pages of horror-filled history emotionally demolished the reader page by page. Solzhenitsyn even wondered if there were any readers who had the moral strength to get through the first two volumes in the preface of the third volume.
It’s not only the content of the book that can intimidate readers but its sheer length as well. A woman I met while in St. Martin, who was covered in Coppertone and sunburn, noticed me reading Gulag by the pool and asked if it was for a class. There is also the strange misconception that Gulag is fiction, when in fact it is no ordinary book.
I should have read Solzhenitsyn’s work before I delved into the former Soviet Republics and wrote a book about the Aral Sea disaster. I was familiar with many of his works, from Cancer Ward to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which was the only one published in the Soviet Union until 1989. Even portions of The Red Wheel were self-censored.
Although The Red Wheel novels were not as well-received and I never finished them, Clive James remarks that Solzhenitsyn was not trying to copy Tolstoy, but instead depict a society without one. It was an immense psychological burden for Solzhenitsyn to undertake, especially in comparison to the Stolypin terror of 1906-1907, which Tolstoy was unable to cope with. Chekhov similarly would not have been able to cope with the 1920s mass arrests in Leningrad.
Had the intellectuals featured in [his] plays been informed that within forty years interrogation through torture would be conducted in Russia; that individuals would have their heads squeezed within metal rings; that someone would be submerged in an acid bath; and that, in the best case scenario, captives would be subjected to torture by being denied sleep for an entire week, deprived of water, and savagely beaten to a pulp, no one of the protagonists in Chekhov’s plays would have made it to the finish line due to the fact that they would have all gone mad.
Solzhenitsyn’s work in Gulag clearly manifests his pride in having survived the camps, yet is not suggestive of a supremacy over his oppressors. As Clive James notes, it is remarkable that his pride does not become “messianic,” although in his later years it tended to head in that direction.
James’s essay on Solzhenitsyn, which had been issued in the 1970s, can be found in his more recent anthology As of This Writing, a book no lover of the English language and literature ought to be without. It was this essay that motivated me to read The Gulag Archipelago. Michiko Kakutani, in her New York Times review of As of This Writing, admitted that “James makes you want to reconsider your doubts about Solzhenitsyn’s artistry as writer.” It is worth questioning if Kakutani has read the third volume of Gulag, in which Solzhenitsyn sadly apologizes for its flaws.
I apologize for any poor expression, or any instances of redundancy and disorganized writing. Unfortunately, I have not been granted the peace of a tranquil year as I had hoped, and the last few months have been an incredibly chaotic time. In fact, while finishing the final version of my book, I never had all of the pieces together at once.
The late 1960s were a time of renewed oppression under Leonid Brezhnev and Solzhenitsyn felt its heat. The concept of artistry usually brings to mind leisurely activities and ample time for creation, which Solzhenitsyn had little of.
He had been imprisoned for remonstrating against Stalin during WWII and afterwards worked as a teacher in Kazakhstan, writing in secret.
To complete his work, he had to type quietly so as not to draw attention from the KGB and eventually had to flee to a secluded farmhouse in Estonia. In order to get around the censors, he spread the chapters of Gulag to different parts of Europe.
Some of the brave comrades who had held the pages closer to home were later subjected to intimidation from the government. There are criticisms to be made about Solzhenitsyn’s writing but his bravery in standing up to one of the most notorious political systems of modern history elevates him to the highest rank of world literature.
It is unfortunate that Kakutani has made numerous false claims about Aleksandr Isayevich. William F. Buckley, in his obituary for Vladimir Nabokov, recounts an entertaining evening when he and Nabokov had a good laugh over Solzhenitsyn’s “unfortunate Russian prose”. According to his wife, Vera, Nabokov did not regard Solzhenitsyn as a “great writer”.
(He had a rather small list of writers he deemed as “great”: Faulkner, Mann, Camus, Dreiser, and mainly Dostoyevsky). Yet in February 1974, Nabokov joyfully welcomed his compatriot to Switzerland, who had been arrested and sentenced to exile by the Soviets due to an illegitimate copy of Gulag‘s manuscript falling into the hands of the KGB. In a letter to Solzhenitsyn, Nabokov expressed his happiness that his children could attend schools for humans instead of slaves. He went on to state that he would not normally make “official” political statements, but he could not help but welcome him.
Despite the fact that Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn both came from pre-Revolutionary Russia, Nabokov could not look past his disapproval of Solzhenitsyn’s writing style.
(Solzhenitsyn did not know of Nabokov’s true feelings until later, and even proposed him for the Nobel Prize).
Nevertheless, not many in the Western world can contest Nabokov’s opinion of Solzhenitsyn’s writing. With only a basic understanding of Russian, it is difficult to make an informed conclusion on Solzhenitsyn’s writing. The Russian speakers I have spoken to vary in opinion, but all agree that his prose is unique.
Solzhenitsyn was not the first to uncover the atrocities of the Soviet Union, which he referred to as a place of “permanent lies”. An early book, An Island Hell, written by an escapee of one of the USSR’s most horrific concentration camps, was published in England in the 1920s, only to see its author be accused of exaggerating his experiences. Solzhenitsyn’s impressive stature, including him winning the Nobel Prize in 1970, gave him a much wider readership to expose the Soviet system.
His first volume of Gulag sold in the US alone over a million copies, but the second and third volumes saw a decrease in sales. His work was an event and purchasing it was almost a duty. Even those who weren’t particularly literary owned a copy. Reading it, however, was challenging.
Even those who have read Soviet history have difficulty understanding some of the passages. It is rare to have a book from thirty years ago that is still so relevant today. The lessons taught by Gulag are just as crucial today as they were in 1974, making it a must-read for those who wish to comprehend the evils of the present-day world.
When The Gulag Archipelago was released in the early 1970s, it destroyed the belief in some circles that Stalinism was a deviation from Soviet Communism and that Stalin was an outside force that had corrupted Lenin’s Marxist ideas. It is hard for younger generations to understand how important it was for Solzhenitsyn to show that the Soviet system had never been anything but a totalitarian regime. In the 1930s, many intellectuals in the US were drawn to Communism and the failure of capitalism was seen as an unquestionable truth. The sham of Stalin’s show trials, which were his way of getting rid of his opponents, caused Americans to lose faith in the Soviet system.
Though the debate continued over what Stalinism was, many liberals believed it was a betrayal of the Soviet Union’s values and that it was a mistake. Solzhenitsyn showed, however, that the apparatuses of Leninism caused Stalinism to come about. Even though Lenin disliked Stalin and most Bolsheviks felt the same, it is now obvious that Leninism caused Stalinism to exist and Solzhenitsyn deserves credit for this.
For a long time, only the most persistent Westerners were aware of Lenin’s more violent views. He thought the intelligentsia had passed its prime, telling Maxim Gorky, “If we break too many pots, it will be [the intelligentsia’s] fault.”
A common Soviet phrase, supposedly supported by Lenin, was “Neither Peace Nor War,” which was what he gave anyone who challenged him: perpetual conflict and no resolution. By 1920, Lenin had arrested so many intellectuals that he believed they were done for, yet he kept on punishing them throughout the 1920s.
Even if the intellectuals did not actively act against the Soviet power, Lenin thought “inaction is also criminal.” Many were tortured for the simple act of meeting with each other for tea. In order to deal with this, Lenin wanted “tougher people.” The first Gulag camps were made in 1919 in the Arctic, during the Russian Civil War.
These camps, known as SLON (“elephant” in Russian), were among the worst and prisoners were sent there wearing only thin trousers and short-sleeved shirts. Solzhenitsyn calls them the “Arctic Auschwitz.” The camps were usually former monasteries, which the Soviet authorities preferred due to their strong walls and solid buildings. This was all before the personality cult of Stalinism.
After Lenin suffered several strokes in 1924, Joseph Stalin took the Soviet Union and made it much worse, a development that Solzhenitsyn labeled as “a cannibalistically artless straight line”. The oppression that occurred under Stalin’s rule caused most of the remaining civilized parts of Russia to vanish.
The Soviet Union basically went insane. Solzhenitsyn tells of devoted communists, even though they were imprisoned for nothing, who still wrote home saying they were still devoted to the Soviet government.
He also mentions a noblewoman who tried to take her own life, but the interrogators stopped her and then shot her. In the 1940s the third wave of Stalin’s terror included sentences of up to twenty-five years for nothing, with a sentence of ten years for no crime at all. People were even arrested for simply being in the vicinity of a foreigner, for being in an Intourist hotel, and for having a negative attitude towards the state. Stalin even created a way for children from twelve years old to be sentenced to prison. One particular story tells of a starving boy who was given eight years for having a pocket full of potatoes and another child who was given five years for having cucumbers.
In this rule of “lunacy and treachery,” those accused of offenses were not given a court-ordered punishment. Instead, they were subjected to an “administrative penalty.” This was not a judicial sentence, but the detainees were still divested of their titles, decorations, and all personal possessions; were cruelly kept in confinement; and had their right to connect with their families taken away. According to Solzhenitsyn, “there was no higher court to which to appeal, and nothing lower than it. It was only subordinate to the Minister of Internal Affairs, to Stalin, and to the Devil.”
In the 1940s, during the same time, young men of the era were attending universities like the Sorbonne or Oxford, and engaging in activities like tennis. Furthermore, Solzhenitsyn would not have to mention that most were likely pro-Soviet.
The term “Gulag” stands for Glavnoe Upravleniye Lagerei, which translates to “Main Camp Administration”. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian concentration camps had been used during World War I, but only to detain POWs and foreigners. However, after the Revolution, and still under Lenin’s rule, citizens of the same country were held in these camps for the first time. This happened fifteen years before the Nazis did the same. In addition, the phrase Lagerei might have been familiar to those who spoke German, as it is similar to Das Konzentrationslager, which is the German term for “concentration camp”.
Hence, the two systems of penal termination had many resemblances. In 1928, it was determined that the existing Soviet punishment policy was “inadequate” and that “harsh measures” of repression should be enforced on “class enemies” and “hostile-class elements”. The Gulag was based not on the traditional methods of serfdom or capitalism, but on the destruction of its inmates.
Additionally, the workers in the prisons were not to be paid for their labor. This idea was inspired by the philosophy of Communism, which aimed for industrialization, equality, and job opportunities for all. Nevertheless, certain jobs required for industrialization had to be done cheaply or even for free, and therefore prisoners were used for this purpose.
This is when the Corrective Labor Camps, referred to by Solzhenitsyn as the “Destructive Labor Camps” came into existence. It was Naftaly Frenkel, a Soviet emigrant of Jewish origin, who improved the Gulag system, and this has resulted in Solzhenitsyn being accused of anti-Semitism by some critics.
In addition, both Nazi and Soviet regimes favored the use of euphemistic language. For instance, Soviet telegrams sent from camp to camp referred to humans as “boxes of soap” and asked to “send 200!”. When one telegraphist grasped the meaning behind this, she was arrested for treason. There are few phrases as cruel as Arbeit Macht Frei, however, nothing was as wickedly comical as “VRIDLO” – “Temporary Replacement for a Horse”, which referred to prisoners tied up to pull carts. Following the conclusion of WW2, the Soviets adopted a few practices from the Nazi camps, such as the use of numbers instead of names for Gulag prisoners.
As dead bodies were loaded onto carts, tied up and taken away, their numbers were callously read off by camp supervisors. As Solzhenitsyn stated, “On the other hand, no one can accuse us of gas chambers.”
Many Jewish critics, writers, and Holocaust survivors, including Elie Wiesel, felt uncomfortable with Solzhenitsyn’s strong emphasis on the comparison between the Gulag and the Nazi extermination camps, and how the former was even more evil than the latter. Wiesel, however, later defended Solzhenitsyn from anti-Semitism charges on the grounds of his intellect and writing ability.
The people of the Soviet Union had endured twenty-four years of communist rule, and by 1941 they knew something that no one else in the world was aware of: that the Bolshevik regime was the most savage, most murderous, and most cunning regime ever known. It was unparalleled in its ruthlessness, its strength, its far-reaching goals and its wholly totalitarian nature–not even the Nazi regime under Hitler could compare, though it was blinding Western eyes to any other truth.
The estimation for the number of people killed due to Soviet Communism from 1917 to 1959 is 20 million, more than the victims of the Nazi genocides. Martin Amis, in his book Koba the Dread, has discussed the differences between the dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler, a debate he refers to as “the difference between the little mustache and the big mustache”. Orlando Figes, Ian Kershaw, and Alan Bullock have also written about this comparison, and Amis has uniquely highlighted the emotional difficulty of judging which regime was worse.
This is a question that has perplexed many people, one that forces them to determine their stance on the conflict. Amis states that “your body tells you whose side you are on” in such a situation.
He is pro-Soviet, as are the majority of us, but why is this the case? Figes argues that it is due to ideological reasons, since Communism is based on the teachings of the Enlightenment, which encourages Western liberals to sympathize with it, even if they do not advocate its political goals. On the other hand, Amis views it as a result of failure and success: Stalin did his worst, while Hitler did not; had the latter done his worst, it would have resulted in a continent-wide eugenics project. Both Figes and Amis have engaged with this issue, but neither delve into the emotional secrets of the Right and the Left.
The concept of an “emotional secret” here references the inner, often hidden motivator that can exist within a system of thought. For the Right, this involves a paganistic approach, with a focus on acquiring genetic and material resources. Nazism made this inner secret more overt and violent. On the other hand, the Left is known to have a disdain for success and to be preoccupied with class and status. This can explain why they may hesitate to challenge regimes or ideologies that purportedly promote equity, even when the end result is mass destruction. In the past, many people argued that the Soviet Union’s means were intended to achieve beneficial outcomes, even though this has now been shown to be wrong. Will we remember the consequences of this mistake?
In 1993, Bill Clinton proposed a $100 million memorial honoring the victims of Communism on public land in Washington, DC.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was tasked with raising the funds, but after a decade of fundraising, they have only managed to collect less than half a million dollars. In Russia, the refusal to recognize the victims is even worse.
Anne Appelbaum explains that there has been an effort to avoid discussing the causes and legacies of Stalinism. Solzhenitsyn, in the second volume of The Gulag Archipelago, pondered the lack of response from free people in 1990. And today, the topic of Communism is considered somewhat embarrassing. This poses a question: what of those who do not acknowledge the enemies of religious, sexual, and political freedom? What are their bodies telling them?
As we find ourselves in the midst of undeniably political times in the United States, my reading of The Gulag Archipelago was made more profound. I could not help but annotate passages which I felt were related to the current situation. I wished for someone to share with George W. Bush the story of Genrikh Yagoda, the Soviet Commissar for Internal Affairs, using Orthodox Russian ikons for target practice before going to the bathhouse. Solzhenitsyn asks how we can comprehend such depravity and malevolence.
Can we really say that evildoers do not exist? We may be inclined to think this way, especially when we look at stories for children where the idea of evildoers is often simplified. However, the classic literature of the past often paints them in a more extreme light, which may appear far-fetched to our modern eyes.
The problem lies in the way these evildoers are portrayed – they recognize themselves as wicked and accept that their souls are black. This is not the case, however. To do evil, a person must first believe that they are doing something good, or that it is in accordance with nature.
The twentieth century was unfortunately marked by evildoing on an immense scale, which cannot be ignored. So, how can we deny that evildoers exist? Who was responsible for all these deaths? Without these evildoers, the Archipelago would not have been created.
As Solzhenitsyn, an expert in physics, explains, phenomena such as oxygen, which remains a gas until 183 degrees below zero, can be compared to human actions. We often waver between good and evil, but so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, hope remains, and the individual can still be saved.
Solzhenitsyn’s idea that everyone is capable of evil is a concept that we should all contemplate. This applies to Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and even Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Bush’s inclusion of the term ‘evildoer’ in relation to the war on terror has created a somewhat childish view of what is a profoundly complex situation.
The struggle between freedom and fascism which is being played out on a global scale is more than a comic book. To what extent should we be responsible for helping to reduce the suffering of others? This question needs to be answered without resorting to a He-Man-esque attitude or moral immaturity.
History has taught us the lesson that the belief in good intentions of the Soviet Communism of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s was misguided. Nevertheless, Solzhenitsyn still expresses sympathy for those who were initially taken in by the idea. We should remember his example, and understand that once a certain threshold magnitude is crossed, one should know better.
I was firmly against the war in Iraq and I hold a deep mistrust for the Bush administration. I opposed it because our country did not get attacked and there was no genocide taking place in the country. I know from my own experiences how living in a totalitarian society can cause a lot of damage and I did not think the US government would be able to handle it the right way after Afghanistan, which was a disaster.
I feared that if the US botched the aftermath, my generation would be paying the price for this war for the rest of our lives.
I could not take part in the march that was held near the United Nations Plaza when the war started as I was aware that the presence of the crowd could provide some comfort to the Baathists. Furthermore, I had recently read Samantha Power’s “A Problem from Hell,” which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and it revealed the Western world’s consistent failure to stop the genocides of the twentieth century, such as the Iraqi genocide against the Kurds after the Iran-Iraq war. I was incredibly confused, unsure of my own moral feelings and the stance I should take towards the war. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s moral clarity in “The Gulag Archipelago” had made me consider that one must fight totalitarianism, and I realized it was not possible to resolve it through diplomacy. To not fight against Baathism, I felt, would be to risk being judged as a fool.
In December 2000, I had been duped. I was offered a job to write a book about Central Asia, and this was one of the few opportunities that had actually gotten better following the events of September 11th. I was intrigued by the Taliban and concurred with their spokesman’s statement at a press conference after they had destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas. He said that Afghanistan was a country of 6 million war orphans, one of the poorest countries in the world, and had more landmines than any other nation in the world; and yet all of a sudden, the world’s attention was on some statues. I understood that what they had done was wrong, yet before the Taliban rule, the nation had been controlled by people who were rapists and professional warmongers.
My thoughts on the Taliban were challenged when I went to Mazar-i-Sharif. I heard of the horrific acts committed by the Taliban, such as beating people for not praying. I saw the Fatima Balkhi School that had been inactive for four years and was damaged beyond belief. My translator told me his family had been hiding in a well for 3 days when the Taliban gained control in 1997 and that his brother was never seen again.
My intention to sympathize with the Taliban was gone. I had believed the Western’s moral superiority claims too easily and had been deceived.
My fear was that a great deal of the antiwar protesters in the US were being deceived. I was concerned that the majority of them had been duped by a false, self-congratulatory protest myths that embraced the idea that the US military was innately wicked.
I was concerned that Michael Moore’s movie Bowling for Columbine, which implies without explanation that the US bombing of another country was wrong, was misleading the protesters. Also, I was worried that Noam Chomsky had not yet apologized for his 1977 article, “Distortions at Fourth Hand” that suggested reports of a Khmer Rouge massacre in Cambodia were merely Cold War propaganda. As we know, two million people perished in Cambodia as a result of this. Additionally, I feared the protesters were being misinformed by comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, as well as being taken in by some of the major antiwar organizers.
It was not my fear, but my belief that was shared by other liberals that many protestors had no understanding of what they were engaging in at antiwar rallies. For instance, a man at a rally in Washington in 2003 did not even read the sign he was waving and admitted he did not know what it said. For the antiwar movement to be successful, they need to stop pushing for the troops to be brought home as that would be the worst possible outcome. It would turn the already clumsy intervention into a Visigothic-level vandalism.
At the rally attended by Goldberg, a group known as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & Racism) was a major organizer. This organization is a facade for the Workers World Party, which has openly applauded the Iraqi insurgency against the U.S. military, even expressing joy at the sight of children throwing stones at the American forces. According to David Corn in his Los Angeles Weekly article “Behind the Placards:
The Odd and Troubling Origins of Today’s Antiwar Movement,” the Workers World Party split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1956 to back the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The same group has lauded North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il for guarding his country from large banks and has claimed that Iraq “has done absolutely nothing wrong.” This is the same Workers World Party that has declared its support for Allende’s overthrow in Chile in 1973 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. On its website, the WWP states that it does not join in when Third World leaders are maligned, yet they have praised Kim Jong-Il and declared their unwavering support for Iraq.
The majority of individuals listed as members of ANSWER are not actually part of the WWP, but with the International Action Center, which was created by Ramsay Clark, the former U.S. attorney general for Lyndon Johnson. Regarding Clark, one could say he flew past the point of no return when he chose to protect Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian war criminal and mass executioner, as a person bravely fighting against the U.S. government.
At each protest put on by ANSWER, donation buckets are filled by people who are unaware of the organization’s deceitful background.
Many liberal writers, such as Katha Pollitt, are conscious of this fact, but still hope something positive will come out of it. This is reminiscent of the past with the Stalinists, where the outcome was far from satisfactory. Even their adversaries within the antiwar movement have had to accept their organizational skills. One person told Corn that they remembered everything but the Porta-Johns. This should not be a shock, as the Stalinists have always been proficient organizers.
What can a single individual do or think about this regrettable conflict, with its almost Greek chorus of Stalinists and pacifists, thoughtless proponents, and also thoughtful opponents and supporters? I’m not sure there is a straightforward answer to my or anyone else’s anti-antiwar confusion; the only thing we can do is rely on our gut feelings. After studying Solzhenitsyn, I arrived at an uneasy belief; I think the war in Iraq was morally wrong, tactically uncertain, and likely unlawful, but, at the same time, and almost incomprehensibly,
I consider the removal of Saddam Hussein from power to be a great moral achievement, regardless of the profits Halliburton gained or the Bush administration’s insincere and dishonest motives. The war is far from over, and all I can do now is hope for its success, freedom, and peace for the Iraqis, which they won’t get without us and the reluctant involvement of many other countries. It’s ultimately immaterial that I detest the man leading this war. There is no other option. I might not like it, I might even despise it, but we, as a country, have crossed a different kind of limit, one with tremendous possible good, and only vigilant and resolved benevolence will keep us from disappearing.
The works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are not much read in the present day. A number of people argue that there is no need to read him as the Soviet totalitarianism has already died and been buried.
When I contacted his various American publishers to ask about the yearly sales of his books, none of them responded. His stature was somewhat diminished due to the lacklustre reception of his Red Wheel cycle, as well as the changing literary preferences. Few of us would be likely to read a book such as The Gulag Archipelago for the kind of moral guidance it offers. Solzhenitsyn himself seemed to be aware of this, as he wrote in Gulag: “Truth must be told–and things must change! If words do not address real issues and make a difference, what is the point of them? Are they anything more than the yapping of dogs in the night?” He then went on to suggest, “Maybe modernists should consider this: this is how people usually think of literature. They will not change their attitude soon. Do you think so?”
The allegations of anti-Semitism had a deep impact on Solzhenitsyn. His critics included Russians who felt he had become a “semi-literate provincial” and American and French academics, who were influenced by Soviet authorities and believed Solzhenitsyn to be a Jew, whose real name was Solzhenitser. In some of his work, the portrayal of Jews is not always favorable. D. M.Thomas, in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life , pointed out that two of the men Solzhenitsyn blamed for the Revolution were Jews. Solzhenitsyn himself has denied being an anti-Semite and published the book Two Hundred Years Together to try to resolve the debates. Taking into consideration his other works, it may be reasonable to trust him.
In 1994, at the age of seventy-five, Solzhenitsyn, who had been living in Vermont since the mid-1970s, returned to Russia. Although his books had been immensely popular after the fall of the Soviet Union, the younger generation barely knew his name. His fellow Russian writers were not very supportive, with Viktor Erofeyev commenting that it was better for Solzhenitsyn to speak than write, as his writing style was “ugly”. Artyom Troitsky suggested that The Gulag Archipelago was “totally passe”.
On his talk show and in speeches, Solzhenitsyn often expressed his controversial opinions, including his belief that the spiritual heights experienced by prisoners in the camps could not be understood by modern society. He also complained about taller buildings and crony capitalism, and predicted that the Central Asian republics would unite with Turkey to create a new Ottoman Empire.
James Joyce was known to enjoy having women fart in his face, which serves to illustrate that one should accept great writers’ peculiarities. In 2001, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the author stumbled upon Solzhenitsyn’s talk show, which may have been a rerun. Although he did not understand much of what Solzhenitsyn was saying, he was captivated by his voice and his face. Having not yet read The Gulag Archipelago, he was surprised to discover Solzhenitsyn was still alive.
He believed Solzhenitsyn to be one of the last moral writers, for whom morality was not about what one believed or did, but one’s heart and soul. Solzhenitsyn famously wrote that “nobody groans when another man’s tooth aches” in a world filled with pain. This raises the question of whether they should? ✯