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After you read our own essay about the “unshakable optimist,” of course!

From Edward Ericson, coeditor of The Solzhenitsyn Reader, here is an excellent reflection on the cultural truth-telling of the great man.

One of the exaggerations that many cultural sophisticates hold about Solzhenitsyn is that he was a dour Jeremiah figure hurling thunderous judgments at a wayward world. he did some of that; his courage earned him the right. “no one can bar the road to truth,” he declaimed in 1967, as his combat with brute force raged, “and to advance its cause I am prepared to accept even death.” Dedication to a mission in life moved him beyond the potentially hedonistic platitude that “you have only one life” to the counter-principle that “you have only one conscience, too.”. . .

What could the guardians of “the lie” do with this truth-telling renegade? They could kick him out of their paradise. it is a real loss for a literary artist not to be surrounded by his native language. Yet, in the end, exile was a paltry, pathetic punishment for the enormity of his offense. The Soviet leaders did guess correctly that this sometimes-prickly fellow would become a burr under someone else’s saddle. The West of course welcomed him like a conquering hero. but soon enough he alienated some; he had his cultured despisers. The impatient man’s tone too readily turned stentorian, peremptory; he was inattentive to the social niceties that lubricate good relationships. Still, he was much more sinned against than sinning.

The squalls of yore are fading. Time will tell if this week’s evenhanded obituaries signal merely momentary respect for the newly dead or augur better days ahead for Solzhenitsyn’s reputation.

In his struggle with the Soviets, Solzhenitsyn had the last laugh. he had predicted through all his 20 years in exile that he would return to Russia in the flesh. he set three requirements for his return: that his citizenship be restored, that the charge of treason be dropped, and that all his works be published at home. In other words, the Soviet Union would have to collapse first. all of this happened just as he predicted, and he moved back to Russia in 1994. such prescience is rare.

FT readers, hungry for more, might also want to reread these articles from our archives: “Traducing Solzhenitsyn” and “Solzhenitsyn and Modern Literature.”

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