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The Conscience of a Zek

by Lee Edwards

The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth about a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker, by Daniel J. Mahoney (St. Augustine’s Press, 242 pp., $30)

There should be little argument that the Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn changed history more than any other writer of the 20th century. With his mesmerizing One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, he exposed for the first time the Soviet system of slave-labor camps that was occupied by as many as 60 million prisoners in the decades of Lenin and Stalin. The disintegration of the Soviet empire can be dated from the publication of the monumental The Gulag Archipelago in 1973. Diplomat George Kennan called it “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.” William F. Buckley Jr. described Solzhenitsyn as a man of such “moral splendor” that he should be considered “the outstanding figure of the century.”

Solzhenitsyn was showered with Western awards and honors, including the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, which inspired the New York Times’ Harrison E. Salisbury to write that “a worthy successor to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Bunin, and Pasternak ha[s] appeared.” When Solzhenitsyn was silenced by Soviet authorities and denounced as a traitor, the left-leaning intellectuals who sprang to his defense included Jean-Paul Sartre, W. H. Auden, Günter Grass, Carlos Fuentes, and Arthur Miller.

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