Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Dissident Author

How often does a novelist change the society he lives in?

One who definitely did was Nobel prize-winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn who died on Sunday age 89.

Michael Scammell in the Guardian describes him as :
... a moral and spiritual leader, whose books were noted as much for their ethical dimension as for their aesthetic qualities. Between 1968 and 1976, he was a towering figure in the twin worlds of literature and politics, expressing the pain of his long-suffering people and single-handedly challenging the autocratic government of one of the world's two superpowers. ... Solzhenitsyn's moral authority was not easily earned. It was the fruit, in part, of bitter personal experience in Stalin's labour camps. But the lessons he drew from his experience, and the manner in which he voiced the sufferings of three generations of Soviet victims in powerful novels such as One Day in Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, and The First Circle that secured for him the role of conscience of the nation.
Michael T. Kaufman in the New York Times writes of the man :
... whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of the 20th century.
On a personal note, I came to the novels of Solzhenitsyn in a very strange way. My dad and I used to attend mass at a Catholic church some distance away, instead of our own parish church. The reason? An amazing priest called Father O'Mahoney who preached social justice from the pulpit, single-handedly raised the funds that supported Mother Theresa's mission in India, and who was as likely to reach for The Gulag Archipelgo as the Bible in his sermons.

If you are stirred to read this author for yourself do begin with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, which isn't a long or difficult read, yet I find it haunts me decades after I first picked it up and still teaches me to take nothing I have for granted.


anitakrishlee said...

The day Solzhenitsyn past away and before the news reached the media, I was rearranging my book collection and stumbled on my father's copies of Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and August 1914. I then rang him up and told him I had his books with me and he went on to say that Solzhenitsyn is one of literary's great treasures and moral leader.

bibliobibuli said...

i haven't read "august 1914" but i found "cancer ward" very moving indeed. why not dip into them yourself?