Round Table Discussion

Russian Patriot: Solzhenitsyn’s Preoccupation With History

Chronicles has asked me “to participate in a roundtable on the contributions and legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.”  His contributions were of enormous importance.  His legacy, perhaps less so.  Here was a solitary man whose mind was illuminated by a sense of compelling duty: to write a truth, to cut a single clearing in a monstrous forest darkened by untruths.  His first great book, about a single man and a single day in a Soviet prison camp, accomplished this.  His second book, about the so-called Gulag, was encyclopedic, a description of the vast prison system.  These books had a tremendous impact, even larger beyond Russia than within her.  They came at the right time when intellectuals in the West, many of them belatedly, started to recognize the magnitude of evils within the Soviet Union—whose rulers were frightened enough to force Solzhenitsyn to leave Russia.

A remarkable element—both motive and purpose of his books—was their sense of history, a need to reveal past events in the history of his nation, ignored by its people.  The primacy of this element was something new in the history of Russian literature, something different from the works of the great Russian writers of the 19th century (though such an impulse and inspiration were there, too, in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago).  Such a preoccupation with history marked...

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