Mrs. Solzhenitsyn then names Vladimir Bukovsky, “a man of extraordinary personal courage.” She says that “we weren’t as close to him” as to Ginzburg, “but I have just as high an opinion of him.”
Finally, there is, of course, Sakharov — who “traveled that difficult road from privileged elite to below the level of an untouchable.” Andrei Sakharov was one of the most honored scientists, and honored people, in the whole country. He was on top of the Soviet heap. And he threw it all away to campaign for human rights and democracy.
Many of Solzhenitsyn’s writings are available in English, and many are not. Which writings in the latter category would Natalia Solzhenitsyn most like to see translated? “I would put The Little Grain at the top of the list.” This is Solzhenitsyn’s memoir of his years in the West. “But second, how is it possible that a great, vast, and important country such as the United States has not yet seen The Red Wheel in its full form?” (Only two of the four “nodes,” as Solzhenitsyn called them, have been published in English.)
She does not have a favorite Solzhenitsyn novel, poem, story, or other work. “Whichever one I’m working on at the moment, that seems to me the best. I find myself in love with whatever I’m reading or working on. This is hardly a blind love — I’m aware of weaknesses. But that’s how I feel.”
Solzhenitsyn almost never answered criticism, and there was much of it directed at him. He could do his own work, or he could answer the critics. There was hardly time to do both. He put his shoulder to the wheel: The Red Wheel. Does Mrs. Solzhenitsyn wish he had defended himself more? “It’s true that I reacted to criticism. I took it much more personally than he did. But I supported his stance, because he was right.”
She does not feel the need to look after Solzhenitsyn’s reputation — she figures history will take care of that. “But naturally, every chance I get, when I’m asked to provide information or context, I do.” There is this thought too: “When a widow such as I goes into battle to defend her husband’s reputation or set the record straight, that does not carry much weight. Therefore, I don’t take the initiative.” But “when someone asks, I’m happy to speak.”
Mrs. Solzhenitsyn returns to America every now and then, to see family here. She says that she is most struck by the self-confidence of the people, from all walks of life. “Your average American seems much more confident about who he is and where he is than the average Russian.” The American, she continues, “is not expecting something bad to happen, every moment. Not expecting the proverbial brick to fall on his head. Not expecting to be cheated, not expecting his neighbor to do him wrong.” There is not a feeling of anxiety or wariness “minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day.”
She has a sharp criticism of America: that it has been clumsy on the world stage, and that it has botched U.S.-Russian relations in particular. She also says that the Russian government can and should be criticized on a number of fronts.
One thing I wish to know is how people in Russia react to her, when they see her on the street or in a store. Solzhenitsyn means a great, great deal to many people. She says, “These are awkward moments. I’m bathed in a kind of sea of well-wishing and admiration on the streets of Moscow and environs. Sometimes people say nothing. They just stare, or shake my hand. Or say, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ Nothing but ‘thank you.’”
Sometimes they say more, Mrs. Solzhenitsyn acknowledges, but she is reluctant to repeat what they say. “Too embarrassing.”