Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn
11, 1918, marks the birthday of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born
in Kislovodsk, Russia, in the northern Caucasus Mountains between the Black
and Caspian seas. His father, a tsarist artillery officer, was killed
in a hunting accident six months before his son's birth.
To support herself and her son, Solzhenitsyn's mother worked as a typist.
Solzhenitsyn did well at school, but because the family was extremely poor,
he gave up his plans to study literature in Moscow. He enrolled instead
in Rostov University, where he studied mathematics and physics, more
practical subjects. He was graduated in 1941.
Solzhenitsyn went to great lengths to write and eventually
publish his novels under the Communist regime of the Soviet Union.
After fighting in World War II, he was arrested for writing letters that
criticized Joseph Stalin. He was sentenced to eight years in Russian
labor camps, where he worked as a miner, a bricklayer, and a foundryman.
Upon his release, he was exiled to a village in Kazakhstan,
where he taught math and physics. He wrote of the experience, "I
served this exile from March 1953 (on March 5, when Stalin's death was made
public, I was allowed for the first time to go out without an escort) until
June 1956. Here my cancer had developed rapidly, and at the end of
1953, I was very near death. I was unable to eat, I could not sleep
and was severely affected by the poisons from the tumour. However, I
was able to go to a cancer clinic at Tashkent, where, during 1954, I was
While in exile, Solzhenitsyn began writing prose in
secret, being careful not to show his work to even his closest friends, to
prevent word from reaching Soviet authorities. He said he was
"convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my
in 1961, the Soviet government adopted slightly looser censorship standards.
Solzhenitsyn decided to risk trying to publish his first novel, One Day
in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962). He succeeded, but two years
later the government took his books out of print and forced him to stop
In 1968, he met Natalya (Alya) Svetlova. They were married in 1973 after his divorce from his first wife
was finalized. Svetlova would bear him three sons.
manuscripts were smuggled into Europe and America, where they drew the
attention of several major writers. In 1970, he won the
Nobel Prize for Literature, even though he still couldn't publish in his
home country. He was deported to West Germany in 1974 following the
publication abroad of the first part of his trilogy, The Gulag
In exile in Switzerland, he criticized the Soviet system and its denial of
human rights. After moving with his family to Vermont in 1976, he turned to
criticizing the decadence and materialism of the West.
In 1991, the political climate in Russia changed, and Solzhenitsyn's works
began receiving attention locally. News of the author in exile created
a national furor. While some people began comparing his books to the
works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, others were hailing him as a national hero.
in 1994, Solzhenitsyn returned to his native land. On his arrival, he
denounced politico Vladimir Zhirinovsky as a xenophobic nationalist and spoke
scathingly of the new class of cut-throat businessmen "who thieve our
national wealth" while their countrymen were dying of poverty.
Continuing changes in Russian society affected the author's reputation.
As one Moscow critic wrote, "Everyone knows his name, but no one reads his
books." In October 1994, Solzhenitsyn addressed the parliamentary Duma
on a government's responsibilities to its citizens, but his speech left most
In 1997, Solzhenitsyn was admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit of a
Moscow hospital. He recovered and was released from the hospital.
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