Solzhenitsyn in Exile
This volume is a welcome addition to the earlier Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials (1973), which covered the period until Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s enforced exile from the Soviet Union in 1974. Two of the three editors of the present volume also edited the earlier work; together, the two books present a thorough picture of Solzhenitsyn’s literary works, political opinions, and controversial polemics, which have made him a center of attention throughout the world.
The book is divided into four parts: a series of informative essays which depict Solzhenitsyn’s reception in various countries, including the United States; critical essays on the author’s postexile writings and sociopolitical beliefs; documentary materials (letters, an interview concerning his views on literature, and Lidiia Chukovskaia’s reminiscences of Solzhenitsyn); and finally, a lengthy and extremely useful bibliography of Solzhenitsyn’s works and works about the author. Unlike the first volume, which was a compilation of essays and lectures printed or delivered under various auspices, this volume, according to the preface, contains articles specially commissioned for inclusion in Solzhenitsyn in Exile. At least one article, however, has appeared elsewhere; “Yugoslav Reactions to Solzhenitsyn” was recently published in an American journal for teachers of Russian.
All the essays are written with sympathy for Solzhenitsyn, castigating his opponents and praising his friends. For example, Edward J. Brown takes Soviet literary critic Vladimir Lakshin and others to task for criticizing Solzhenitsyn’s less than flattering treatment of Soviet poet and editor Aleksandr Tvardovsky in Bodalsya telyenok s dubom (1975; The Oak and the Calf, 1980). Even some staunch supporters of Solzhenitsyn in his myriad battles with the Soviet establishment were critical of the author’s picture of an alcoholic and sometimes less-than-bold Tvardovsky, the editor of the liberal literary journal Novy mir, which published Odin den Ivana Denisovicha (1962; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1963). Tvardovsky had also supported Solzhenitsyn before Party leaders and the bureaucrats of the Union of Soviet Writers. Brown defends Solzhenitsyn’s portrait of Tvardovsky and counters that Solzhenitsyn does not owe the late editor the loyalty which Tvardovsky’s friends and relatives believe that he does. This controversy has caused embitterment and considerable dissension among many Soviet liberals and dissidents.
The main point of the essays in this book, however, is not to portray the divisions among friends and allies of Tvardovsky but, rather, to ask one simple question: Why has the perception of Solzhenitsyn in the West changed so drastically in the ten years since his involuntary departure from the Soviet Union? His portrait of Tvardovsky may have caused some people to view Solzhenitsyn as an ingrate, but much more serious questions have arisen concerning his social and political views. Indeed, there is no doubt that his stock in the United States has gone down; many who viewed Solzhenitsyn as a suffering dissident speaking out for freedom in the Soviet Union now see him as a reactionary cold warrior who does not seem to believe in the fundamental freedoms of democracy. The essays dealing with his reception in various countries portray the confusion that commenced as Solzhenitsyn began to criticize what he perceived as the weaknesses of the Western democracies, which, in his opinion, have lost the religious foundations of Western civilization and are given over to unrestrained and licentious behavior.
Were there two Solzhenitsyns—a democratic liberal in the Soviet Union replaced by a conservative religious fanatic in the West? Perhaps Solzhenitsyn was traumatized as he was forcibly catapulted to the West, or perhaps he...
(The entire section is 1601 words.)