Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is considered by many to be the greatest Russian author of the twentieth century. His writing has attracted worldwide attention, and he has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.
Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as a prisoner in a Siberian labor camp is the basis for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918, received a degree in mathematics and physics in 1941, and began teaching high school. He served with distinction as an artillery officer in World War II but was arrested in 1945 for allegedly making a derogatory remark about Stalin in a letter to a friend. Sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, he was incarcerated in a camp similar to the one described in the novel. He survived and was released in 1953, but he was exiled to Central Asia until Stalin was denounced by the new Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1956, and restrictions upon those who had suffered during Stalin’s political purges were eased.
Solzhenitsyn moved to a small Russian town near Moscow and began to teach mathematics and to render some of his experiences in fictional form. It was the anti-Stalinist mood of the day that enabled him to get his first novel published. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich appeared in the November 20, 1962, issue of Novy Mir (new world), the official literary journal of the Communist Party. It was published largely because the editors of the journal thought it represented a specifically anti-Stalinist piece of literature. The work’s success was immediate. The entire November run of Novy Mir sold out in a day, and Solzhenitsyn was catapulted to international fame.
The officials of the Soviet Communist Party soon realized they had made a mistake. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was not, as they had assumed, a piece of literature denouncing Stalin, but an indictment of the Soviet system as a whole, a denunciation of the repression and totalitarianism of Communist Russia. Solzhenitsyn became a symbol of freedom for the persecuted Soviet artistic community and of courage and individualism to all who read him around the world. The government soon moved against him. He was denounced, dismissed from his teaching position, and exiled from Moscow. In 1974, he was arrested, charged with treason, and imprisoned; he was exiled from the Soviet Union that same year. Solzhenitsyn resided in the United States until returning to Russia in 1993, after the collapse of communism.
Solzhenitsyn’s output as a writer is tremendous. Some of his more important works of fiction include Rakovy korpus (1968; Cancer Ward, 1968), V kruge pervom (1968; The First Circle, 1968), and Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo (1971, expanded version...
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