I’ve been reading a great (updated) biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn by Joseph Pearce, published recently by Ignatius Press. This is truly wonderful read about one of the great, heroic, noble figures of the 20th century.
I’m not a big fan of Christopher Hitchens, but this was a great tribute he wrote upon the writer’s death in 2008:
Every now and then it happens. The state or the system encounters an individual who, bafflingly, maddeningly, absurdly, cannot be broken. Should they manage to survive, such heroes have a good chance of outliving the state or the system that so grossly underestimated them. Examples are rather precious and relatively few, and they include Nelson Mandela refusing an offer to be released from jail (unless and until all other political detainees were also freed) and Alexander Solzhenitsynhaving to be deported from his country of birth against his will, even though he had become—and had been before—a prisoner there.
To have fought his way into Hitler’s East Prussia as a proud Red Army soldier in the harshest war on record, to have been arrested and incarcerated for a chance indiscretion, to have served a full sentence of servitude and been released on the very day that Stalin died, and then to have developed cancer and known the whole rigor and misery of a Soviet-era isolation hospital—what could you fear after that? The bullying of Leonid Brezhnev’s KGB and the hate campaigns of the hack-ridden Soviet press must have seemed like contemptible fleabites by comparison. But it seems that Solzhenitsyn did have a worry or a dread, not that he himself would be harmed but that none of his work would ever see print. Nonetheless—and this is the point to which I call your attention—he kept on writing. The Communist Party’s goons could have torn it up or confiscated or burned it—as they did sometimes—but he continued putting it down on paper and keeping a bottom drawer filled for posterity. This is a kind of fortitude for which we do not have any facile name. The simplest way of phrasing it is to say that Solzhenitsyn lived “as if.” Barely deigning to notice the sniggering, pick-nose bullies who followed him and harassed him, he carried on “as if” he were a free citizen, “as if” he had the right to study his own country’s history, “as if” there were such a thing as human dignity.
Read the full article here: http://www.slate.com/id/2196606/
Here is the audio of his famous 1978 commencement speech at Harvard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_Bndt2Yd4U
And here is a fascinating video on Lenin & the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQhdiAfzFM0&feature=fvsr