Remembering Russia's Prophet

Reflections on Solzhenitsyn's life reveal complex legacy
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2008 1:05 PM CDT
In this Oct. 28, 1994 file picture, Alexander Solzhenitsyn speaks in the Duma, giving his first official address since returning to Russia from 20 years exile.   (AP Photo/Sergei Karkuphin, File)
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(Newser) – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died yesterday at 89, left a complicated legacy and an unassailable record as one of the great writers of the 20th century. Three takes on the Nobel laureate:

  • The National Review, which on occasion published Solzhenitsyn’s work, says he may have been the man of the 20th century. After The Gulag Archipelago appeared, they argue, "the USSR had no standing, morally."

  • Solzhenitsyn earned his moral authority the hard way, writes Michael Scammell of the Guardian: through "bitter personal experience in Stalin's labour camps." He embodied "the 19th-century Russian ideal of the writer as secular prophet."
  • But not everyone loved Solzhenitsyn, recalls Washington Post religion writer John Mark Reynolds. His fierce criticisms of secularism, and of ideology both liberal and conservative, angered many. No matter. Solzhenitsyn told the truth, and was, no less than the bible’s Jeremiah, a prophet.