Alexander Solzhenitsyn died this weekend. Though we never met, he helped shape me.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s I was greatly expanding my universe and discovered Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s works. After reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, I was hooked, and Solzhenitsyn became an author I sought out and devoured. His were not easy books, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Two others I remember reading were The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.
Two contributions to my life I credit to reading Solzhenitsyn. The first is that he invited his readers behind the obvious into worlds that were “behind the curtain”. It added to my curiosity and willingness to look for what lies behind what is easy to see. Solzhenitsyn’s characters were vivid and strong. They worked against systems which were designed to enslave them, and they perservered in challenging and dangerous circumstances. That was the kind of encouragment an adolescent needs at that time, and it was true for me also.
I’m told that Solzhenitsyn was demanding, single-minded, and uncompromising. But I knew him as one who invited a teenager to live in a world more complex than could ever be imagined in small-town America.