Round Table Discussion

The Journeys of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Shukov felt pleased with life as he went to sleep . . . The end of an unclouded day.  Almost a happy one. [from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich]

The journey is over.  Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn survived war, the Gulag, and cancer; was exiled from his homeland, only to return, having outlived the Soviet Union as he once predicted he would; and has died in his beloved Russia.  To Western eyes, and increasingly to Russian eyes as well, he seemed an exotic figure from a distant past, a bearded prophet from a Hollywood biblical epic, misplaced—or miscast—in the 20th and 21st centuries, a writer who spoke up because he had something important to say and was acting within the traditions of his nation as prophetic artists from its past had.  He must have puzzled many, since he had no use for the trappings of celebrity, was not concerned when his ideas proved unpopular, and did not curry favor with the popular media.  He often said things many of us, including his friends and admirers, did not want to hear and was prepared to die secure, to rest in peace.  He was not embarrassed by his Christian faith, was a patriot who sometimes harshly criticized his countrymen, and was a great artist, which sometimes is forgotten in all the controversies over his pronouncements on politics and society.  That he sometimes disappointed his admirers, who...

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