Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

For a brief period in the 1960’s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was favorably viewed by the Soviet regime, because Odin den Ivana Denisovicha (1962; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1963) was one of Nikita Khrushchev’s weapons in the de-Stalinization campaign. Described by Izvestia as a “true helper of the Party,” Solzhenitsyn came close to winning the Lenin Prize in literature in 1964.

With Khrushchev’s fall in 1964, however, the de-Stalinization process was cut short. Conflict between the Soviet regime and Solzhenitsyn was inevitable, given the great disparity between their values. One of Solzhenitsyn’s central beliefs is that Marxism is an “un-Russian wind from the West”; hence, the Communist regime is in every way inimical to the Russian people. Moreover, Solzhenitsyn is a fervent Christian, which places him in head-on conflict with the country’s leaders. Given Solzhenitsyn’s determination to speak his piece, to stand up for what he considered morally right, regardless of consequences, there was bound to be open war between author and state. In Joseph Stalin’s time, the state would have silenced the author at once. By the 1960’s, however, the regime, while certainly not respecting the rule of law as Westerners know it, no longer behaved like the totalitarian state of Stalin’s era. The author’s fame at home and abroad would have made the reincarceration of Solzhenitsyn a political embarrassment for...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Bayley, John. Review in The New York Review of Books. XXVII (June 26, 1980), p. 3.

Blake, Patricia. Review in Time. CXV (June 9, 1980), p. 80.

Cohen, S. F. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXV (May 4, 1980), p. 1.

Scammell, Michael. Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, 1984.

Steiner, George. “Excommunication” in The New Yorker. LVI (August 25, 1980), pp. 94-100.