Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Applebaum on Solzhenitzyn

Anne Appelbaum knows a thing or two about the Soviet Union, so her's in the kind of obituary you go looking for this week.

In the end, she writes, although Solzhenitsyn the man was flawed, it's his words that were important. Very important.

In the week of his death, though, what stands out is not who Solzhenitsyn was but what he wrote. It is very easy, in a world where news is instant and photographs travel as quickly as they are taken, to forget how powerful, still, are written words. And Solzhenitsyn was, in the end, a writer: A man who gathered facts, sorted through them, tested them against his own experience, composed them into paragraphs and chapters. It was not his personality but his language that forced people to think more deeply about their values, their assumptions, their societies. It was not his television appearances that affected history but his words.

His manuscripts were read and pondered in silence, and the thought he put into them provoked his readers to think, too. In the end, his books mattered not because he was famous or notorious but because millions of Soviet citizens recognized themselves in his work: They read his books because they already knew that they were true.

They knew that they were true. How many authors, or any one else for that matter, say the truth?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Solzhenitzyn was still a russian, through and through. He didn't understand Capitalism. And, part of his "fancy" when he visited America; was the "academic intellectuals" who gave him embrace.

James Lileks actually wrote the best possible obit. He said, when the Gulag was published in America; he was a teenage kid in Fargo; where he felt isolated. And, was going through the "usual growing pains" of the young.

However, after introducing this idea; about himself. And, Fargo (South Dakota? North Dakota? Shows you how little I know about every place you can be from in the USA) ... Though I saw the movie. (Fargo.)

What Lileks said was that he was in the local pharmacy; where they had for sale paperbacks. Up on their rack.

And, it was the kind of summer summer where he had the time to read the whole thing.

Just in case you thought "russian novels" had to be a subject taught in college; where if you get the Cliff Notes you can get by WITHOUT having to read War and Peace. Dostoyevski ... People in America (from small towns where the "academic intellectuals" think of as "fly over country." Still had people CURIOUS.

The Gulag was read by people who had no idea the underbelly side of russia. And, the ways in which those folk never got to know any form of government at all. If it wasn't the Czar; it was Stalin.

Like discovering "life on Mars," you can learn that life goes on. In spite of how vile russian existance has turned out to be.

But "thanks" to those intellectual academics" the flaws just didn't get seen.

No surprises in that.

Are things different from the 1970's, now? Of course!

But now people just lift their heads and say "it must be Bush's fault."

Just in case you thought somebody could fix it when thugs gain control of countries ... one after another. And, the people just get shafted. You could add religion to this, and it would still be true.

While other countries come out of the fire stronger than ever. Why just go and look at Japan!

As to russia, their whole system still stinks. Can't impress me much that people who travail you with Holocaust examples, improve life for any other generation. I don't buy it.

And, I "buy" least into the fabric woven by academic intellectuals.