Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Date of birth: 11-12-1918
Date of death: 03-08-2008
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Nobel laureate Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, the reclusive icon of the Russian intelligentsia and chronicler of Communist repression, has died. He was 89. Add your memories ...

Nobel laureate Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, the reclusive icon of the Russian intelligentsia and chronicler of Communist repression, has died. He was 89. Add your memories and condolences as we celebrate his life.

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Hans Drake

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  • 5 years, 1 month
    created memory in Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    As a doctoral student in ocean geochemistry I accidentally became aware of the wideranging Soviet scientific literature - which in many areas was more advanced than Western work in the 1960s. I joined a Russian language and learned enough Russian to read Russian scientific literature - becoming acquainted with many leading Soviet scientists in my field. In the course of three visits to the Soviet Union my interest in Solzhenitsyn's life and writings was aroused. I was present when S. gave his famous uncompromising speech at a Harvard Commencement in 1978 - during which some Harvard students ostentatiously turned their backs to the speaker's platform during his presentation. Although many credentialed American intellectuals deplored his speech, I found it uncannily accurate - and in hindsight - prescient, and so did a number of people with whom I've spoken subsequently.

    The most interesting experience for this series of memories took place in the later 1980s, while Solzhenitsyn was living in Cavendish, Vermont. I was reading CANCER WARD, which was set in a cancer clinic in Uzbekistan around 1956, and was struck by research of the brilliant young geologist, Vadim. Suffering from incurable and probably fatal melanoblastoma, Vadim had developed revolutionary radiochemical tracer techniques for studying earth processes, finding ore deposits, etc. I was well acquainted with the history of geochemical tracers and prospecting through my work, and recognized that even in the 1960s, when Solzhenitsyn wrote his book, such techniques as Vadim was working with would have been very advanced.

    Sceptical that I would receive and answer - given Solzhenitsyn's dedication to his work and probable heavy mailbag from his large circle of Russian frieknds and contacts - I nevertheless penned a letter to him. It was in both English and Russian and highlighted my main question. How did Solzhenitsyn come upon such advanced geochemical approaches that Vadim was working with?

    To my great surprise I got an answer! Solzhenitsyn wrote back that he had needed advanced concepts to associate with Vadim. So he asked knowledgeable friends to make suggestions.

    There is much more in this deceptively simple answer than may be obvious. First, as I mentioned, the techniques in question were cutting edge. There would only be a small group of experts in the Soviet Union who would be conversant enough to offer tsuch ideas. That Solzhenitsyn's circle of friends was broad enough to include people with scientific expertise is significant. Moreover, the specific suggestions were appropriate and judicious. This suggests that whatever their fields of work or specialization, Solzhenitsyn's friends tended to be people of the highest ability.

    I think that my experience is consistent with other aspects of his career, namely that Solzhenitsyn wanted to know the truth, the true realities. The desire of the media or various experts to paste labels on 'Solzhenitsyn has been a constant. I remember when he arrived in Zurich after being expelled from the Soviet Union. One reporter asked him whether he advocated returning the Soviet Union to a more patriarchal Russian Orthodox system. Solzhenitsyn gave a simple and powerful response that abruptly derailed further questions along this line. He said

    "I'm a historian. As a historian I know that one cannot move forward by turning backward."

    In other words, every time I have heard Solzhenitsyn address assumptions about him or his aims, he has convincingly demonstrated that simplistic labels and characterizations were misplaced.

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  • 6 years, 1 month
    created memory in Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a complex and provocative human being. His gift was more the ability to raise questions than to provide answers. While born a child of the revolution, his mind reflected the values of old Russia. His literary and existential condemnations of the false promises and perversions of the Communist regime served the enemies of the Soviet Union well -- while his subsequent condemnations of America's failure to adher to his moral compass, as well as his fierce Russian nationalism baffled many Americans. This says as much about our ignorance of Russian culture and traditions and values and its very soul -- than it does about this Russian enigma who followed in the footsteps of the 19th century Russian revolutionaries and romantics. Paka Sasha

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  • 6 years, 1 month
    created memory in Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward while in college in the 70's and fell in love with this passionate, honest and great writer. He opened a whole new world of reading for me and I now appreciate reading other authors such as Frank Kafka. God keep him in his loving arms and the world was a much better place with him in it and he will truly be missed. Diane Youmans

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  • 6 years, 1 month
    created memory in Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    His literature exposed the truth of the traumas that were occurring with his fellow country men. Alexander has left a legacy with his work. His memory will live on through his stories.

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  • 6 years, 1 month
    created memory in Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    One of Russia's greatest writers, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, dies at the age of 89. CNN's Jill Dougherty reports

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  • 6 years, 1 month
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