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.