Natan Sharansky, the Soviet “refusenik” and political prisoner who became an Israeli politician and a worldwide human-rights leader, has come out with a new memoir: Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People. Really? Another memoir from Sharansky, the author of one of the greatest memoirs ever written, anywhere, anytime?
I am speaking of Fear No Evil (1988). That is chiefly a prison memoir. A lot has happened since then, and even the prison years merit revisiting.
Earlier this month, I spoke with Sharansky, and I have a piece on the homepage today, here. (For my podcast with him, go here.) I would like to add a couple of things here on the Corner. First, a little quoting:
When Sharansky stepped off the plane in Israel, he was a hero, to one and all. But he entered politics, which entails taking positions and incurring the displeasure of roughly half the population. What does Sharansky have to say about this?
“You know, it’s very boring to be a hero, especially when you’re young and still have a life in front of you. You listen to all these compliments, enjoy them, and so what? Life is full of interesting challenges.”
Last summer — is summer over yet? — I had a post called “Stout Necks.” It had to do with the sacrifice of popularity for the sake of taking a stand. Often, sticking your neck out costs you something. I cited three individuals, in particular: Sharansky, J. K. Rowling, and Garry Kasparov.
Kasparov could have remained a chess hero to the end of time. He was the greatest who ever played, according to many experts. But he threw himself into human-rights advocacy — and the politics that goes with it — thereby ruffling feathers.
He commented, “Thank you, Jay. Retiring and becoming a statue did not interest me. And with what’s happening to statues these days, I’m even gladder!”
A further excerpt from my piece — “Still Sharansky” — today:
One last thing. I always ask Sharansky — I can’t help it — “Do you have your Psalm book on you?” He had it in the Gulag, and had to fight to keep it. His leading verse was, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” So, where is it? Where is that little, historic book? “In the left pocket of my shirt,” as usual, says Sharansky. “It is always with me, it is always giving me strength.”
I first met Sharansky in 2005 and wrote about him here. I thought I would paste a paragraph from that piece, too:
Toward the very end of his ordeal, at the airport in Moscow — Sharansky had no idea what was happening to him — he refused to board the plane before they gave him back his Psalm book. In front of photographers, he dropped to the snow, yelling for it. They gave it back to him. Once aboard — when they told him he was being released — he recited the Psalm he had always designated for his liberation day, Psalm 30: “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.”