Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, southern Russia on 11th December, 1918. His father studied philological subjects at Moscow University although he did not complete his studies since he enrolled as a volunteer during the war in 1914. He became an artillery officer on the German front, however he died in the summer of 1918, six months before Aleksandr was born. He was raised up by his mother, who worked as a shorthand-typist. He spent his entire childhood in the town of Rostov on the Don. His dream of becoming a writer started ever since he was a young child. In the 1930s, he attempted to publish his writings but none of the companies were willing to accept his manuscripts. He wanted to receive a literary education, however such an education was not offered in a minor town like Rostov. He could not move to Moscow either since his mother was alone and sick. Thus, leaving him with no other option, he began to study at the Department of Mathematics at Rostov University where he discovered his talent in this field. On one hand he found the subject easy, he did not want to devote his entire life on mathematics. However, it turns out that this area of study benefited him later on in his life.
After graduating from the department of Mathematics and Physics at Rostov University, he worked for various jobs that mainly involved the production of artilleries. In February 1945, he was arrested in East Prussia for writing disrespectful remarks on Stalin in a letter to a friend. Luckily, the reason was insufficiently inadequate to sentence death, therefore he was imposed an eight year sentence in one of the Gulag correction camps instead. This is where his exclusive knowledge in mathematics and physics became beneficial, as it eased his life in the camps. During his eight year of sentence, he was transferred to several specialized correctional work camps. In 1946, he served as a mathematician at a scientific research institute of the Ministry of State Security (MVD-MOB) in the so-called “Special Prisons” which only incarcerated political prisoners. In another camp located in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan (where ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ was set) he served as a bricklayer, a miner and a foundry-man. Then in 1953 was sentenced to a life of exile because his writings deemed threatening to the government.
Although his health was never that good, it was getting worse as his cancer grew rapidly towards the end of 1953. He could not sleep or eat due to the unbearable pain. Luckily, he was able to visit a cancer clinic and was cured within a year. During all the years of exile, he taught mathematics and physics at a primary school to earn him some money. He also continued writing in secret to pursue his dream. Until 1961, he never showed his works even to his close relatives because he feared that the information would leak somehow.
At the age of 42, he finally became less wary of publicizing his works and decided to emerge to offer 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich'. On one hand he was afraid that the content might risk his entire manuscripts to be abolished, things turned out to be successful. After one year, A.T. Tvarvdovsky was able to print the novel.
Later in 1970, he won a Nobel prize of Literature and actually recieved it four years later when he was deported form the USSR. He was deported because his manuscript for the first part of 'The Gulag Archipelago' was found. Him and his family first moved to Germany, then Switzerland, then to the United States of America. The US offered him a different life style, which made Aleksandr feel very comfortable and secure. In total, he spend two decades in the United States.
In 1990, his Soviet citizenship was restored. Four years later, him and his wife moved back to Russia leaving their sons behind in the US for educational reasons. On August 3rd 2008, he died of heart failure at the age of 89.
(Picture below - Solzhenitsyn's funeral)

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