Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 3 August 2008) was a Russian author and activist, best known as the author of The Gulag Archipelago, a book criticizing Stalinist Russia. It resulted in him being banned from the USSR in 1974 and brought him world fame.
He served in the Red Army during World War II, and he was arrested in 1945 for criticizing Stalin in personal letters. He was sentenced to eight years in The Gulag. In the more liberal climate of Khrushchev's rule, he was allowed to publish a novel inspired by his experiences, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The book was the first major account in the USSR of Stalinist repression, and caused a sensation both at home and in the West.
After Khrushchev was deposed in 1964, culture in the Soviet Union became more repressive. Solzhenitsyn continued to work secretly on his comprehensive account on the gulags, The Gulag Archipelago. He would memorise a lot of his works in case the drafts were seized by the KGB. The seizure of The Gulag Archipelago (and suicide of the person who had it in her possession as a result of her arrest) forced him into early publication in the West. After this, he was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, although he didn't collect it until 1974.
Solzhenitsyn emigrated to the United States, but returned to Russia in 1994, and lived there until his death.
His career contains several striking comparisons to that of Fyodor Dostoevsky, particularly his embrace of Christianity after imprisonment in Siberia. He's a highly controversial figure among Russian patriots: many of them denounce him as one of the architects of The Great Politics Mess-Up and a "traitor and liar" (helped by the fact that his name is based on the word stem "to lie"), but some sympathize with his conservative political views, though in the West criticism usually focuses on his borderline or actual anti-Semitic sentiments, and his critique of "democracy" (which he claimed led to the rise of the Russian oligarchs) and his romanticized and simplistic view of Russia's past. To put it simply, the man was just as enamored with Tsarism as he was hateful of Communism. He was also very distrustful of the democratic, free-market Western "model".
His most famous works are:
- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich- the first major account in the USSR of Stalinist repression.
- The First Circle
- The Gulag Archipelago- Major (and somewhat accurate, but not exactly objective: go read Shalamov if you want naked truth) account of the Soviet gulag system. This one got him kicked out of the Soviet Union. The original Russian title is a rhyme, Arkhipelag GULag. Its impact on global politics was huge- the previously accepted view that Stalin was an aberration from Lenin's vision became seriously questionable and effectively destroyed those parties on the left who still supported Marxism-Leninism.
- The Cancer Ward - Life in a Cancer Ward in Soviet
- August 1914 - The first novel in his Red Wheel series. Mostly revolves around the Battle of Tannenberg, with various other subplots.
- The Decline of courage aka the 1978 Harvard Commencement Address. It was the first time he clearly expressed his view that the Communist East and the "democratic/free-rule of the market" West were Not So Different, with the latter being less Obviously Evil, but with the potential to be just as dehumanizing, simply preferring the worship of Money to the ruthless enforcement of the Communist ideology.
Provides examples of:
- Colbert Bump: Already well known author, but it can be assumed that many of the younger generations know about him from the lectures of psychologist Jordan Peterson.
- Badass Beard: His trademark.
- Born in the Wrong Century: He was very nostalgic for Tsarist Russia, a time period he never experienced personally (he was born two years after the Russian Revolution.)
- The Gulag: Was forced to work there for many years and the hardships inspired him to write several novels about his experiences.
- Hollywood New England: Avoided, although he spent many years in rural Vermont he never set a major work there.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The main reason he was banned from the USSR. He criticized the Soviet Union, though he also criticized Western imperialism. On the other hand he longed for the times of Tsarist Russia.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The man is much better known for being banned from the USSR than anything else in his life.
- Russian Guy Suffers Most: He described the hardships in Stalin's gulag camps and criticized the life conditions in the Soviet Union.
- Russian Reading: He is one of the most famous Russian authors worldwide.
- Spell My Name with an "S": A difficult to spell name, as most Russian names transcribed in the Western alphabet tend to be.