“Solzhenitsyn’s unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union’s slave labor camps riveted his countrymen, whose secret history he exposed. They earned him 20 years of bitter exile, but international renown.
“And they inspired millions, perhaps, with the knowledge that one person’s courage and integrity could, in the end, defeat the totalitarian machinery of an empire.
“Beginning with the 1962 short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn devoted himself to describing what he called the human “meat grinder” that had caught him along with millions of other Soviet citizens: capricious arrests, often for trifling and seemingly absurd reasons, followed by sentences to slave labor camps where cold, starvation and punishing work crushed inmates physically and spiritually.
“His Gulag Archipelago trilogy of the 1970s left readers shocked by the savagery of the Soviet state under the dictator Josef Stalin. It helped erase lingering sympathy for the Soviet Union among many leftist intellectuals, especially in Europe.”
More here, where not everyone is impressed:
There was a time that I was a great admirer of Solzhenitsyn. He was a man of moral courage in his time and place and is a great writer. That said, he never really trusted a free and open society. In his years in exile in the US, he was totally incurious about us. He expressed a distrusted of capitalism. He never examined the political or cultural foundation of our democracy. He completely missed why the US was a successful democracy. His Harvard Commencement speech was a shocking slap in the face. It laid bare his total distain for a free and open press. It deserves being re-read.
The last few years he’s been a Useful Idiot for Putin. He approved publically his vertical power structure and never opened his mouth when the press was being systemically returned to the state. He always expressed that Russia would be better served by a benigh autocrat which makes him a very flawed man and certainly not an asset to this younger generation of Russians. He died having lost every ounce of his moral authority as far as I’m concerned.
Like everyone else, he had his critics: He was accused of being a megalomaniac, a Slavophile, a right-wing nationalist, an anti-Semite. He was too humane for any of that.
And he did not spend much time on his critics, for better or worse — some of his admirers wished he had. But, as his son Ignat once put it, he could have written The Red Wheel (his multi-novel magnum opus, treating the Bolshevik Revolution) or he could have kept up with his critics. He could not do both. He was not interested in popularity or fame. He simply wanted to tell the truth, wherever it took him.
Years later, another of Solzhenitsyn’s sons, Stephan, caught some flak in the press for a position he took on an environmental issue. One of his opponents said, “Didn’t he learn anything from his father?” Stephan answered, “Yes — mainly that the truth isn’t always popular.”