Once the darling of Western commentators, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suffered a serious reversal in his reputation during the decades after he was exiled from the Soviet Union and came to live in the United States. Liberals who once looked to him as a champion of their cause began to castigate him for his harsh criticisms of the moral decay he found in the West, and for his insistence in promoting traditional Christian values as the source of political and moral salvation for humankind.
The reason for this change of fortune is the subject of Edward Ericson’s examination of Solzhenitsyn’s writings and of the criticisms leveled at him by one-time supporters. Ericson outlines Solzhenitsyn’s worldview, showing that the Russian dissident has consistently promoted the values for which he was criticized so widely after his exile. Ericson devotes three chapters to a thoroughly documented chronicle of Solzhenitsyn’s reception in the West and the critical turn against him, then concentrates on an exploration of Solzhenitsyn’s ideas about democracy, nationalism, and the West—areas in which Solzhenitsyn’s thought has been misunderstood and misrepresented. Special attention is paid to Solzhenitsyn’s 1973 LETTER TO THE SOVIET LEADERS and his 1990 essay REBUILDING RUSSIA, both aimed at offering suggestions to his countrymen on ways to improve the lot of the Russian people, restore their self-worth, and help them shape their own future.
Ericson is quick to defend his subject, and equally quick to point out inconsistencies in the writings of Solzhenitsyn’s enemies. His argument makes a convincing case that words matter—they have done so for Solzhenitsyn all his life, and they do now for people who are passionately interested in the future of humanity.
Sources for Further Study
Choice. XXXI, December, 1993, p.609.
Christianity Today. XXXVIII, February 7, 1994, p.57.
Library Journal. CXVIII, March 15, 1993, p.94.
National Review. XLV, October 4, 1993, p.68.
Publishers Weekly. CCXL, February 15, 1993, p.220.