Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, RIP
A paperback copy of The Gulag Archipelago has been sitting largely unattended on my bookshelf for about fifteen years now. I know I started reading it once, because I picked it up a little while ago and found one of those magnetic refrigerator ads placed as a bookmark at the beginning of Chapter Two.
If I'd taken the time to read further, I might be able to write a more fitting tribute to the book's author, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who died yesterday. As it stands, I can do little more than introduce those of you who may never have heard his name to the man who made it worth remembering.
The first page of The Gulag Archipelago is a dedication:
Solzhenitsyn was one of the most important literary and political figures of the past century, and justifiably so. In his early years, Solzhenitsyn had been a Communist. He was later imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for speaking out against the Communists and for exposing them and their ideology for who and what they were. From the moment he picked up the pen to write that first page of The Gulag Archipelago, he knew the risks involved, but he also knew it to be his sacred duty to keep writing and to keep remembering...and to tell the stories of those who had given their lives so that we might remember.
I dedicate this to all those who did not live to tell it. And may they please forgive me for not having seen it all nor remembered it all, for not having divined all of it.
In his "Author's Note," Solzhenitsyn explained the rush to get his book published:
For years I have with reluctant heart withheld from publication this already completed book: my obligation to those still living outweighed my obligation to the dead. But now that State Security has seized the book anyway, I have no alternative but to publish it immediately. In this book, there are no fictitious persons, nor fictitious events. People and places are named with their own names. If they are identified by initials instead of names, it is for personal considerations. If they are not named at all, it is only because human memory has failed to preserve their names. But it all took place just as it is here described.What took place in the gulag - and Solzhenitsyn's account of it in all its horrific detail - was enough to convince even some of the most sympathetic Leftists in the West that their views on Soviet Communism had been mistaken. Even so, and up to the very end, the Communists had plenty of willing defenders and propagandists outside his beloved Russia, but Solzhenitsyn was always there as a living rebuttal.
Living in the wilds of Huntsville, Alabama, it's remarkable that I even know who Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is. It's perhaps more remarkable that I have a copy of his book resting on my bookcase. Not remarkable that I bought it, but remarkable that I knew I should buy it. And there's a reason for that. There were people who did listen - who actually read past that first chapter - and who therefore understood how important it was to speak Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's name and to tell his story, just as he had spoken the names and told the stories of those who had suffered with him in the gulag.
His was a name that helped bring an evil empire to its knees. His is a name that we all should remember.
May he rest in peace.