The Timesreports the death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, aged eighty-nine, in Moscow:

Mr. Solzhenitsyn outlived by nearly 17 years the Soviet state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The book, a mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly he was being compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekhov.

Over the next five decades, Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s fame spread throughout the world as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative novels like The First Circle and The Cancer Ward and historical works like The Gulag Archipelago.

There are other obituaries here and here. Readers with a complimentary Times subscription can also read one of the first interviews Solzhenitsyn ever gave to an American journal (1980), conducted by none other than Hilton Kramer:

Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who spent 11 years (1945–56) in various prisons, concentration camps and places of forced exile in the Soviet Union because of some disrespectful references to Stalin in private correspondence with a friend, caused a worldwide sensation in November 1962 when his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was published in the magazine Novy Mir. This occurred in the brief heyday of “de-Stalinization,” and publication of the novel—which gives an unforgettable account of life in a forced-labor camp—had been personally approved by Nikita Khrushchev.

“Yes, Ivan Denisovich made a strong impression in the West as well as in the Soviet Union,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn recalled. “But,” he quickly added, “its literary qualities have to this day been almost completely ignored in the West.” For that matter, he said, “I don’t know of a single critical work that attempts an analysis of the literary aspects of The Gulag Archipelago,” his epic-scale account of life in the Soviet camps. He described this work—which in English occupies three stout volumes—as having a mosaic-like structure in which the details of the personal stories of some 227 witnesses, all scrupulously collected by himself, are pieced together to form a vast panorama of life in the Soviet Inferno . . .

Read the whole piece here.

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