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Today in Literary History – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Born in 1918

Today, Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would have turned 90. Sadly, he didn’t quite make it to this notable age as he died earlier this year (August 3) from  heart failure.

Solzhenitsyn was truly dedicated to his craft. Unable to study writing in college, Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics but managed to complete correspondence courses in literature. During World War II, he was arrested for penning a letter criticizing Stalin and spent  eight years in prison and labor camps, followed by a three year exile in Kazakhstan.

Solzhenitsyn didn’t give up writing, he merely kept it secret from everyone, including friends and family, thinking he’d never be published. Publicly, he was a mathematics and physics teacher.

It wasn’t until 1961 that he let the world in on his secret. In that year he published the short novel,  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which became an instant success.  Two years later, he published We Never Make Mistakes and Matryona’s Place.

The success seemed short-lived however when the government then withdrew its permission to publish Solzhenitsyn’s work and confiscated his manuscripts.  But Solzhenitsyn didn’t let this stop him – he began secretly distributing his work and published the books, The First Circle (1968), Cancer Ward (1968), and August 1914 (1971) in other countries.

In 1970, Solzhenitsyn’s efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature. Fearing he would be barred from returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn decided to forgo traveling to Sweden for the presentation of the award.  His citizenship was not secure however. In 1973,  Solzhenitsyn was forced to move to the USA,  following his arrest and exile after parts of his book, The Gulag Archipelago were published in Paris.

While in the United States,  Solzhenitsyn continued to write and publish books including, The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions About Russia Imperil America, November 1916, The Love-Girl and the Innocent and Rebuilding Russia.

In 1990, Solzhenitsyn regained his Russian citizenship and returned to Russian four years later where he wrote short stories, a literary memoir on his years in the West, The Grain Between the Millstones and polemics on Russian history and identity.

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