- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The writer

“[Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‘s] ‘Gulag Archipelago’ was a crushing blow to the Soviet Union - after its publication in the mid-1970s, the USSR had no standing, morally. The book was effective because it was true.

“Because he was such a great and important man, it is sometimes overlooked how great, versatile and prolific a writer he was. He wrote novels, novellas, short stories, poems, memoirs, essays, speeches and more. The ‘Gulag Archipelago,’ he called ‘an experiment in literary investigation.’ The ‘First Circle,’ a novel, is many people´s favorite book. So is another novel, ‘Cancer Ward.’

“He wrote no more gripping or beautiful work than ‘The Oak and the Calf,’ his literary memoir. The title refers to an old folk image of a calf butting its head up against an oak: This symbolizes futility. And that was a writer - a lone, persecuted, hounded writer - trying to bring down the Soviet state. Yet the oak fell.”

-From “Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, R.I.P.” on Aug. 4 at National Review

Critic of West

“[Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn was an icon of freedom to the Western world, but he did not return the esteem it heaped on him. As a man of enormous Christian faith, he regarded the West as spiritually deteriorated, and he sometimes baffled supporters and critics alike with his reactionary criticisms of Western democracy. In a searing speech to Harvard’s graduating class of 1978, he observed that ‘a decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today’ …

“Solzhenitsyn remained hopeful that the coming centuries would bring with them a world where mankind’s material and spiritual lives, our bodies and our souls, would be able to flourish together. After personally enduring and bearing witness to some of the greatest tragedies of a tragic century, he still believed that life could and would evolve and improve. ‘The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage,” he said. “No one on earth has any other way left but upward.’”

-Lev Grossman, writing on “Remembering Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn” on Aug. 4 at Time

Russia today

“N. said no, the materialism and consumerism and status-seeking is far worse in the former Soviet Union. The people, having been so deprived of ordinary comforts for so long, were not made stronger by it, but weakened, such that now they crave these things inordinately. My friend feels strongly that for all the very real problems in America, it’s a far better place to live, from a spiritual and moral point of view, than where he came from.

“Poor [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn. I think of him and [Karol] Wojtyla in the same way, in this regard. John Paul II had hoped that the religious-based resistance the Poles showed to communism would avail them much as Western materialism arrived. I do believe he died sorrowful about this.”

-Rod Dreher, writing on “The Russia Solzhenitsyn leaves behind” on Aug. 4 at the Beliefnet blog Crunchy Con

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