Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian author of ‘The Gulag Archipelago,’ dies at 89

The World

Guest: Archie Barron, producer and director of the documentary “The Solzhenitsyns Take a Long Way Home”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn timeline:
Birth: 1918, December 12; Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn is born in Kislovodsk, Russia on December 11, 1918, as World War I was ending. His father dies six months before his birth. A student of mathematics: 1937; Now an unpublished and frustrated young author, Solzhenitsyn reluctantly studies Mathematics at Rostov University in Russia. Natalia Reshetovskaia: 1940; In 1940, Solzhenitsyn marries Natalia Reshetovskaia. She would divorce him in 1950, they would marry again in 1957, and then the two would divorce finally in 1972. Captain Solzhenitsyn: 1942; For some 2 1/2 years, during World War II, Solzhenitsyn serves as an artillery captain. Imprisonment: 1945, February; Solzhenitsyn is arrested in February 1945, for “disrepectful remarks” written about Stalin in correspondences with a friend. He is soon taken to a labor camp to carry out an eight-year sentence. Writing: 1947;
Solzhenitsyn begins using a post as a school teacher of physics and math inside the scientific labor camps as a cover to write. His writings ? poems, mostly ? would survive his prison tenure, but he also commits reams of prose to memory. “The First Circle” would later chronicle this time period. Political prison camp: 1950;
Solzhenitsyn is transferred to a labor camp for political prisoners in 1950, where he contracts stomach cancer. It clears in 1954 after treatment. The ordeal is later published as “The Cancer Ward” and “The Right Hand.” Perpetual exile: 1953; After serving his eight-year prison term, Solzhenitsyn receives a new sentence: imprisonment for life. Khrushchev: 1953, September 7; Nikita Khrushchev takes power in the Soviet Union after Joseph Stalin’s death earlier in the year. Reprieve: 1956; Khrushchev leads reforms and Solzhenitsyn is granted a reprieve from incarceration. He becomes a science teacher. “Ivan Denisovich”: 1961; After keeping his writing secret from most of his closest friends, the 43-year-old Solzhenitsyn’s manuscript for “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” reaches “Novy Mir” editor Aleksandr vardovsky. Tvardovsky becomes its champion, publishing the polemical novel about a labor camp inmate in 1962, with the consent of Khrushchev in a brief period of de-Stalinization. Decades would pass before the Soviet Union publishes a second Solzhenitsyn novel (in 1989). Writings seized: 1964-1965; Solzhenitsyn comes to regret the publication of his first novel when, as Khrushchev is ousted, his plays are halted and his unpublished novel “The First Circle” is seized. “The Gulag Archipelago”: 1968; Solzhenitsyn completes his masterwork, “The Gulag Archipelago,” a history of the labor camps in which he served. The book would become a scathing indictment of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin’s government and it would popularize the term “gulag” for the camps where Stalin held political prisoners in an attempt to stymie opposition to the Soviet state. Nobel Prize: 1970; Solzhenitsyn wins the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 (before the publication of “Gulag”), but the Soviet state protests, preventing him from receiving the prize for years. His unpublished manuscripts begin leaking to the West and Solzhenitsyn’s literary fame grows. “Gulag” published: 1973; The first of the three volumes of “The Gulag Archipelago” is published. Aleksei Kosygin’s Soviet government does not take immediate action. Natalia Svetlova: 1973; Solzhenitsyn marries his second wife, Natalia Svetlova. They have three sons: Yermolai, Stepan and Ignat. Deportation: 1974;
The state-run newspaper “Pravda” labels Solzhenitsyn a traitor. He is stripped of his citizenship and deported to West Germany. Solzhenitsyn lives in Switzerland, then continues his exile in Cavendish, Vermont, where he completes “The Red Wheel,” a series of novels about the formation of the modern Soviet Union. His later books receive little attention in the West and, in his last years, Solzhenitsyn earns renown as an irascible crank.
Return home: 1994; Following the reinstatement of his citizenship in 1990 and the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Solzhenitsyn returns home, settling near Moscow, where he would live the rest of his life. A “dominant writer”: 2001
New Yorker editor David Remnick writes that Solzhenitzyn is “the dominant writer of the 20th century.” Death: 2008, August 3; Son Stepan informs the media that his father has died at age 89. Sources: The Nobel Foundation, The New York Times

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