RIP: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Russian novelist, former dissident, Solzhenitsyn dead –
(CNN) — Russian novelist and historian Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose works detailed the horrors of Stalin’s Soviet labor camps, has died at 89, Russian news agencies reported Monday.
He published his first work, a novella titled "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," in a literary journal in 1959. The story was based on his own experiences at a labor camp in Kazakhstan where he worked as a miner, bricklayer and foundryman, and was later printed on a wider scale in 1961.

I remember reading this novella one day while visiting my parents during Christmas break, when I was in college.  This would’ve been around 1981 or 82, probably.

In truth, it was rather long to be considered a mere ‘novella’ — but I was also a voracious reader back then and could devour entire libraries in a matter or months (no kidding).

I finished Denisovich near evening, feeling the bone-deep cold and the simple satisfaction the man felt at a day he considered a very good one — but which most of us would call horrendously punishing.

Then I was called down to family dinner — and stood, I’m sure, with my mouth agape like a carp as I saw the dining room table filled with food.  Ivan had been so very happy to snag a fish head in his thin soup that eponymous day in the gulag…and here we had so much food, I knew some would be thrown out.  It was all I could do to make myself eat even small portions.  It was too, too rich for me.

This is the mark of a supremely talented author: When he or she can make you literally feel what the protagonists feel, to pull you into their world.  For an afternoon, I felt as if I’d been in the gulag with Ivan, sharing his meal, chopping wood in the lethally cold forest, then in the barracks…  (Even more amazing, that this should be possible in an English translation from the original.)

The world just lost an artistic master.

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