Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) is perhaps the best Russian writer of the 1900s. He is most famous for the “Gulag Archipelago” (1973). Unlike most writers of his time, he has a strong Christian outlook and even looks like a bearded prophet.
For writing the truth about the evils of communist Russia, especially its system of political prisons known as the Gulag, he was a hero in the West and won a Nobel Prize in 1970.
He first wrote about one day of one man in the Gulag in the book that made him famous, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” (1962). Then he detailed the whole system in an 1800-page book called “The Gulag Archipelago.”
In “Gulag” he showed that communism is not evil because Stalin was evil: communism was evil from the ground up. Even Lenin, his hero as a boy, was part of that evil.
He sent the book secretly to the West. In 1974, a few months after it appeared, he was banished.
While he lived in America in the mountains of Vermont, he wrote his Red Wheel series about the history of Russia in the 1910s when the communists took over. Solzhenitsyn was not so much writing as rewriting history from the lies the communists have told of those times.
When he got to America he did not keep quiet about its evils either. In his 1978 speech at Harvard he said that while America has an incredible wealth of things, spiritually it is very poor. (Mother Teresa has said the very same thing). Americans do not act like men, but like animals in a herd – even their leaders, intellectuals and news reporters. They do not recognize evil and stand up to it.
After the fall of communism he returned to Russia in 1994. He crossed Siberia in a train speaking at the towns along the way. He had a television talk show in 1995, but it did poorly.
The new Russia made Solzhenitsyn sad: it had copied all that was worst in the West.
Solzhenitsyn says that if Russia does not get its moral foundation right no amount of money will save it. He longs for a Holy Russia based on God and country. To many Russians he seems old-fashioned and out of touch.
Solzhenitsyn experienced the Gulag first-hand. After fighting the Germans fearlessly for three years in the Red Army during the Second World War, he was thrown in prison for letters he wrote to an old school friend. The state opened the letters and saw the disrespectful things he said about the man with the moustache. Everyone knew he meant Stalin.
After eight years as a political prisoner of Stalin – a light sentence in those days – he was banished to what is now Kazakhstan. It was ruled by Russia in those days but it was not home. He taught high school and wrote his books in secret.