Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Other Solzhenitsyn

Brian C. Anderson at The New Criterion offers a review of Danile J. Mahoney's The Other Solzhenitsyn. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s reputation has waned in the English-speaking world. The Russian writer still gets credit, at least from sensible quarters, for revealing the Soviet Union’s infernal system of forced labor and institutionalized mendacity in the series of works that includes One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the three-volume “experiment in literary investigation,” The Gulag Archipelago, the publication of which in the West in 1973 sounded the first death-knell of the Soviet Union and made its author a household name. But Anglophone critics have tended to dismiss Solzhenitsyn’s later output—and that’s when they’ve bothered to acknowledge its existence. Diminished interest in Solzhenitsyn is reflected in the fact that much of his post-Gulag writing—including the bulk of his multi-volume literary and historical narrative about the Russian Revolution, The Red Wheel—remains untranslated into English, six years after his death from heart failure at eighty-nine.

The notion that Solzhenitsyn is of merely historical interest in a post-totalitarian age is one likely reason for this neglect. The other is political. The American left, never fond of Solzhenitsyn, began actively to despise him after his 1978 commencement speech at Harvard, “A World Split Apart,” which denounced the rise of moral relativism in the West, praised the idea of liberty under God, and blasted anti-war activists for forcing the United States to withdraw militarily from South Vietnam, leaving that country prey to the Communists—views that were anathema to elite opinion, then as today. As one journalist then put it, Solzhenitsyn “is not the ‘liberal’ we would like him to be.” Around this time arose a perception of Solzhenitsyn, sold primarily by the left but endorsed by some on the right, that provided an excuse not to read him: he was a tsarist reactionary, an Orthodox Christian ayatollah, a hater of democracy, a Russian ultranationalist. None of this was true. Solzhenitsyn wasn’t just dismissed; he was demonized.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Note: I've read several of Solzhenitsyn's books and I'm especially fond of The First Circle. This is a brillant novel. In one chapter alone, Solzhenitsyn captures Stalin better than the many other books I've read on the Communist dictator and mass-murderer.


  1. Thank you, Paul, for the interesting posting. I never knew that Solzhenitsyn was so reviled by the left. His stock just shot up for me because of that alone. I read _One Day . . . _ but nothing else by him. I will be correcting that in the near future. _The First Circle_ sounds like a perfect place to start. Again, thanks for the important informtion.

  2. R.T.,

    "The First Circle" is a great novel, in my view. I think you will enjoy it.

    By the way, how is your health? Hope you are recovering without too much pain.


  3. I have a new approach to the whole disease v. health thing. I ignore it. It will not go away. But I will not let it determine my day to day life. There will be a time sooner than I would like that I will assume room temperature. But I don't care. Until then, I live something like a 12-stepper's philosophy: one day at a time. (Note: the 12-step program worked for me in the past in a different context, and it will work for me now in my current context.)