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Solzhenitsyn : a soul in exile
Pearce, Joseph, 1961-
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Publication Information:
Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Books, 2001.

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xiii, 334 pages 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
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PG3488.04 Z833 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Arguably one of the most significant writers of the 20th century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, often has been stereotyped as a prophet of doom, a pessimist, someone out of touch with reality, and irrelevant. Pearce sets out to challenge this typical media typecasting. Among the features of this major biography are exclusive personal interviews with Solzhenitsyn, previously unpublished poetry, a rare photo gallery, and a focus on the rich faith dimension of this Nobel Prize-winner's life.

Author Notes

Joseph Pearce is a professional biographer and literary researcher.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Once a darling of the West for his high-profile rejection of Sovietism, Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn lost some of his elevated status when his religious views became known. This comprehensive if uncritical biography of the winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature is based in part on Pearce's exclusive interviews with his subject. Pearce details Solzhenitsyn's transformation from an ardently Marxist youth into a literary anachronism in post-Soviet Russia, with the bulk of the text focusing on the author's mid-century experiences. Solzhenitsyn spent years in a Soviet labor camp, then in exile in the gulag after being jailed for anti-Soviet sentiments found in his letters, and eventually was able to leave for the U.S. He emerged as a vociferous critic of the Soviet regime and a writer of international renown, with his memoir of his life in the gulag, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, among his most famous works. Pearce explores Solzhenitsyn's literary output, emphasizing its cultural context and impact. During the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn lost critical support when he began to denounce what he considered from a religious standpoint the selfish materialism of the West. Ever the scholar, he located the origin of the problem in the transition between the sensibilities of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Pearce, who has penned biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, gives little credence to Solzhenitsyn's critics. So readers will gain a detailed impression of one of the leading intellectuals of the mid-20th century, but only an incomplete understanding of his latter-day contexts. B&w photos. (Feb. 1) Forecast: This book could be a tough sell, with a bio of Solzhenitsyn already in print, from a major writer (D.M. Thomas). However, Baker Book House has made the wise move of pricing its title low for a hardcoverÄlower even than the trade paperback edition of Thomas's book, and the Pearce has a special draw in that it includes previously unpublished poetry by the Russian author, which will ensure some interest. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Pearce's biography summarily dispels doubts concerning Alexander Solzhenitsyn's relevance to the current political, economic, and spiritual uncertainty that envelops Russia and, by extension, humanity. While drawing on earlier studies, particularly Michael Scammell's biography Solzhenitsyn (CH, Mar'85), Pearce enjoyed the boon of extensive interviews with Solzhenitsyn, seldom granted to Western writers and journalists, and with his family. The resulting work offers a unique account of Solzhenitsyn's spiritual voyage, from the devout Orthodox Christianity of his childhood, to his early embrace of communism, through war, arrest and imprisonment, illness, exile, and emergence as one of the most masterful and provocative writers of the 20th century, to his return to Christian belief. Taking Solzhenitsyn's moral compass as his touchstone, Pearce challenges the present view of Solzhenitsyn as a hopelessly obsolete "prophet of doom"--offering a portrait of stunning relevance. Far from being out of touch, Solzhenitsyn emerges as an astute spokesman for social justice, spiritual growth, and ecological conscience, issues so fundamental to preserving life on Earth as to transcend the woes of post-Soviet Russia. Pearce's inclusion of several translations of new prose poems poignantly refutes any notion that Solzhenitsyn has abandoned literature to decry the ills of modernity, and reassures the reader of the enduring ring of this poet's voice. All collections. N. Tittler SUNY at Binghamton



Chapter One CHILD OF THE REVOLUTION The eighty years that have elapsed since the murder of Tsar Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra, three of their children and four servants have been the bloodiest in Russia's troubled history. It has been the destiny of Alexander Solzhenitsyn to live through all of them. Lenin ordered the execution of the imperial family in July 1918; just five months later Solzhenitsyn was born, and even while he nestled innocently in his mother's womb, the world which he was about to enter was itself pregnant with change. In the nine months up to his birth on 11 December 1918 Russia Was transformed beyond recognition. In March the Bolshevik government, still consolidating its power after the October Revolution in the previous year, had fled from St Petersburg beyond reach of the German artillery which had advanced to within range of the city. Proclaiming Moscow as the new capital of the fledgling Soviet state, Lenin moved into the Kremlin, while the Cheka , the Soviet secret police, took over the Rossiya Insurance Company building on Lubyanka Square. In August, a month after the tsar and his family were murdered, the Bolsheviks destroyed their socialist rivals in a wave of repression known as the Red Terror, during which thousands of hostages were imprisoned and shot.     Meanwhile a bloody civil war was raging across Russia. The newly formed Red Army, set up by the Bolsheviks, and the various anti-Soviet forces, known collectively as the Whites, were evenly matched in terms of numbers. Crucially, however, the Bolsheviks had control of the railways emanating from Moscow, which enabled them to switch resources from one battlefront to another. The Red Army also drew upon the experience of ex-Tsarist officers forced to serve under the vigilant eye of regimental commissars. Similar force was used throughout the country as Trotsky travelled round Russia shooting commanders who failed to hold their ground at all costs. By contrast, the Whites lacked the ideological fervour which was the basis of Bolshevik unity, encompassing within their ranks a wide range of political ideologies, from monarchists to anti-Soviet socialists. They had neither a unified command nor centralized lines of communication. Such factors were to contribute significantly to the eventual Soviet victory, although the war was still at its fiercest at the time of Solzhenitsyn's birth.     Success in the economic sphere was not so simple for the post-revolutionary government. Soviet policies were causing chaos. Since money was almost worthless, the rural peasantry had no incentive to sell their scarce produce in the cities. The Bolshevik response was to send Red Guards into the countryside to seize food and to set up `committees of the poor' which in turn incited class war against the wealthier peasants, or kulaks . In the cities a form of labour discipline was introduced under the guise of `War Communism' which differed little in its harshness from the pre-trade union days under the tsar. This was a reflection of Lenin's demands, voiced in the first months after the October Revolution, for `the most decisive, draconic measures to tighten up discipline'. In December 1917 he suggested several means by which discipline could be imposed: `confiscation of all property ... confinement in prison, dispatch to the front and forced labour for all who disobey the existing law'.     On 23 July 1918 the Bolshevik government passed legislation which stipulated that `those deprived of freedom who are capable of labour must be recruited for physical work on a compulsory basis'. Writing half a century later, Solzhenitsyn affirmed that `the camps originated and the Archipelago was born from this particular instruction of July 23, 1918'. On 5 September 1918 the Decree on the Red Terror, in addition to a call for mass executions, authorized the Soviet Republic to defend itself `against its class enemies by isolating them in concentration camps'.     `At that time,' Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago , `the authorities used to love to set up their concentration camps in former monasteries: they were enclosed by strong walls, had good solid buildings, and they were empty. (After all, monks are not human beings and could be tossed out at will.) Thus in Moscow there were concentration camps in Andronnikov, Novospassky, and Ivanovsky monasteries.' Neither were monks the only victims. Nuns also warranted eviction. The Krasnaya Gazeta of 6 September 1918 reported that the first camp in St Petersburg `will be set up in Nizhni Novgorod in an empty nunnery', adding that `initially it was planned to send five thousand persons to the concentration camp'.     Thus it was that Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag Archipelago were born within weeks of each other, children of the same revolution.     The turbulent and tyrannical world which Solzhenitsyn entered in the winter of 1918 was made even less hospitable by the absence of his father, killed in a hunting accident six months before his son's birth. Consequently, Solzhenitsyn could remember his father `only from snapshots, and the accounts of my mother and people who knew him'. From these accounts Solzhenitsyn had gleaned that his father, Isaaki Solzhenitsyn, had gone from the university to the front as a volunteer and had served in the Grenadier Artillery Brigade. He recounts with pride the story of his father's bravery in pulling ammunition boxes away from a fire which had been started by enemy shells. For this act of heroism he was mentioned in dispatches. When almost the entire front had collapsed in the face of the German advance, the battery in which his father served remained in the front lines right up until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. He and Taissia Shcherbak, Solzhenitsyn's mother, were married at the front by the brigade chaplain. He ended the war with three officers' decorations, including the George and Anna crosses, but died soon after his return home in spring 1918. If he had lived, Isaaki Solzhenitsyn would have been twenty-seven years old at the time of his son's birth at Kislovodsk, a fashionable Caucasian resort. His wife was twenty-three.     Such was the volatile nature of the times into which the young Solzhenitsyn was born that his father's war medals were considered dangerously incriminating and he remembered helping his mother bury them.     His mother, Solzhenitsyn recalled many years later, raised him `in incredibly hard circumstances'. Although widowed at such a young age and so tragically, she never remarried, which Solzhenitsyn believed was `mainly for fear that a stepfather might be too harsh with me'. Soon after he was born, his mother took him to live in Rostov where they would remain for nineteen years, until the start of the Second World War. For the first fifteen of these they were unable to obtain a room from the state and were forced to live in rented accommodation, normally overpriced dilapidated shacks. When they finally did secure a room, it was part of a cold and draughty converted stable, heated by coal, itself a scarce commodity in Russia during the twenties and thirties. There was no running water. `I learned what running water in an apartment means only recently,' Solzhenitsyn told correspondents from the New York Times and the Washington Post in March 1972.     Taissia Solzhenitsyn knew French and English well, and also learned stenography and typing, but she faced consistent discrimination in employment because of her social origin. She was purged on these grounds from her job at Melstrio (the Flour Mill Construction Administration), her dismissal including restrictions on her future right to employment. Forced to take poorly paid jobs, she had little option but to seek extra work in the evenings, and to do her housework late at night when she got home. Looking back on this period, Solzhenitsyn recalled that his mother was always short of sleep.     Taissia Solzhenitsyn's father had come from the Crimea as a young boy to herd sheep and work as a farmhand. Says Solzhenitsyn, He started with nothing, then became a tenant farmer, and it is true that by the time he was old he was quite rich. He was a man of rare energy and industry. In his fifty years of work he gave the country more grain and wool than many of today's state farms, and he worked no less hard than their directors. As for his workers, he treated them in such a way that after the Revolution they voluntarily supported the old man for twelve years until he died. Let a state farm director try begging from his workers after his dismissal. Before her marriage, Taissia was the least religious member of the Shcherbak family. Her parents had raised her in an atmosphere of piety and devotion and her aunt Ashkelaya was a nun, but this did not prevent the young Taissia from abandoning her childhood faith, largely through the secularizing influence of the progressive boarding school she attended in Rostov. Returning home during school holidays, she was patronizingly embarrassed by the religious devotion displayed by her family and treated the rites of the Orthodox Church with the amused contempt of one who perceived in them only the superstitious practices of an abandoned cult. The disdain for religious faith was reinforced during her time as a student in Moscow where she followed the prevailing trends of atheism and anticlericalism with all the enthusiasm of her contemporaries. By 1918, however, events had drawn her back to the church. The tragic death of her husband so soon after their marriage, the presence of a child in her womb, and the fear and uncertainty engendered by the Red Terror and the Civil War, all contributed to a rekindling of faith.     The émigré writer Nikolai Zernov, who was living in the neighbouring resort of Essentuki at the time, twelve miles from Kislovodsk, described the widespread return to the church of people in the area: `The atmosphere created in the Caucasian resorts encouraged our religious enthusiasm ... It seemed to us that Russia was on the eve of a spiritual renaissance, that the church, purified by her suffering, would reveal to a penitent people the radiant lineaments of our Saviour, and teach Russians how to found their lives on brotherly love.'     The new wave of religious zeal which had swept through the region, taking Taissia with it, was the product of a potent mixture of hope and fear. By the summer of 1919, with the White armies of Denikin and Wrangel liberating the south from the Bolsheviks, hope was in the ascendancy. It was short-lived. In March 1920 the White resistance finally collapsed. Bolshevik rule now returned to the Caucasus to stay, bringing with it a wave of revenge killing throughout the following months. In the winter of 1920 Taissia and the rest of her family had virtually starved, like everyone else in the area, selling furniture and possessions at derisory prices in order to buy food. The famine, so hard to endure in the Caucasus, was even worse in other parts of Russia, most notably in the Volga area where starving peasants turned to cannibalism, eating their own children. Russia had never known such a famine, even in the Time of Troubles in the early seventeenth century." In the new desperate circumstances hope was seemingly vanquished and fear triumphant.     The infant Solzhenitsyn, scarcely two years old, was too young to appreciate the desperate nature of the situation. Instead, one of his earliest memories would always fill him with a sense of warmth and security. Almost sixty years later he was to recall the reassuring icon that hung in one corner of his room, suspended in the angle between wall and ceiling and tilting downwards so that its holy face seemed to be gazing directly at him. At night the candle in front of it would flicker and shudder while he lay in bed staring sleepily upwards. In the magic moment between waking and sleeping, the radiant visage seemed to detach itself and float out over his bed, like a true guardian angel. In the mornings, under the direction of his grandmother Evdokia, he would kneel before the icon and say his prayers.     Throughout this period, Taissia's family lived in fear of losing far more than their property, most of which had been sold or confiscated already. Although they now possessed very little, the fact that they had once been relatively wealthy made them `class enemies' which, in the new reign of terror, was punishable by death.     By 1921, however, it was not only the rich who went in fear of their lives. Soviet Russia was economically devastated, and the Bolsheviks found themselves confronted with worker unrest. In February 1921, sailors at the Kronstadt naval base -- who had been among the Bolsheviks' staunchest supporters since 1905 -- staged a protest against worsening economic conditions. The Kronstadt sailors' revolt precipitated a general strike in St Petersburg. The Bolsheviks rejected calls for negotiations and, oblivious to the previous loyal support of the Kronstadt sailors, accused the protestors of treason and brutally crushed the revolt.     Meanwhile, Lenin was presiding over the Tenth Party Congress, at which he abolished democratic debate within the Party and banned all factions. In real terms, power had now passed from the purely theoretical `dictatorship of the proletariat' to the utterly practical dictatorship of the Secretariat, the governing body of the newly emerging Party bureaucracy. The first General Secretary of the Secretariat, appointed towards the end of 1922, was a Georgian Bolshevik by the name of Josef Stalin. At the same Congress, Lenin unveiled his New Economic Policy which was destined to become increasingly unpopular, particularly with the urban working class who dubbed the NEP the `New Exploitation of the Proletariat'.     It was also in 1922 that the Bolsheviks began to turn their resentful glare on the Orthodox Church.     In August 1921 the church had created diocesan and all-Russian committees for aid to the starving in the Volga region. The committees were banned and the funds collected were confiscated and turned over to the state treasury. Patriarch Tikhon had also appealed to both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury for assistance, but was rebuked by the Bolshevik authorities on the grounds that only the Soviet government had the right to enter into negotiation with foreigners. Discussing this in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago , Solzhenitsyn pointed his accusing finger at the cynical way that the Soviets sought to turn the suffering in the Volga region to their own advantage: But political genius lies in extracting success even from the people's ruin. A brilliant idea was born: after all, three billiard balls can be pocketed with one shot. So now let the priests feed the Volga region! They are Christians. They are generous! 1. If they refuse, we will blame the whole famine on them and destroy the church. 2. If they agree, we will clean out the churches. 3. In either case, we will replenish our stocks of foreign exchange and precious metals. In December 1921, Pomgol -- the State Commission for Famine Relief -- proposed that the churches should help the starving by donating church valuables. The Patriarch agreed and on 19 February 1922 he issued a pastoral letter permitting parish councils to make gifts of objects that had no liturgical and ritual significance. A week later, on 26 February, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee decreed that all valuables were to be forcefully requisitioned from the churches -- for the starving. Two days later the Patriarch issued a new pastoral letter stating that such a measure was sacrilege and that he could not approve the forced requisition of objects needed for the sacred liturgy.     Immediately a campaign of persecution began in the press, directed against the Patriarch and the church authorities who, it was claimed, `were strangling the Volga region with the bony hand of famine'. The concerns of the church were expressed by Bishop Antonin Granovsky who explained to Mikhail Kalinin, Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, that `believers fear that the church valuables may be used for other purposes, more limited and alien to their hearts'. Such concerns fell on deaf ears and on 26 April 1922 a trial of seventeen members of the church, ranging from archpriests to laymen, began in Moscow. The defendants were accused of disseminating the Patriarch's proclamation, with the Patriarch himself being summoned to give evidence. The principal defendant, archpriest A. N. Zaozersky, had actually surrendered all the valuables in his own church voluntarily, but he was charged nevertheless because he defended in principle the Patriarch's assertion that forced requisition was sacrilege. His principles were to cost him his life. Along with four of the other defendants, he was condemned to be shot. `All of which went to prove that what was important was not to feed the starving but to make use of a convenient opportunity to break the back of the church,' wrote Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago .     In the course of his own evidence at the trial the Patriarch had stated that he only considered the laws of the state obligatory `to the extent that they do not contradict the rules of piety'. This led to a debate about church law. The Patriarch explained that if the church itself surrendered its valuables, it was not sacrilege. But if they were taken against the church's will, it was. He stressed that his appeal had not prohibited giving the valuables at all, but had only declared that seizing them against the will of the church was to be condemned. In a vain attempt to instil a little logic into the proceedings the Patriarch spoke of the philological significance of the word svyatotatstvo, meaning `sacrilege'. The word, he explained, derived from svyato , meaning `holy', and tat , meaning `thief'.     `So that means,' exclaimed the Accuser, `that we, the representatives of the Soviet government, are thieves of holy things? So you call the representatives of the Soviet government, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, thieves?' To this the Patriarch replied that he was merely citing church law.     A week later the Patriarch was removed from office and arrested.     Two weeks after that, the Metropolitan Veniamin was arrested in St Petersburg. He was charged, along with several dozen others, with resisting the requisition of church valuables. As the trial, which lasted from 9 June to 5 July 1922, reached a climax, Accuser Smirnov demanded `sixteen heads'. Not to be outdone, Accuser Krasikov cried out: `The whole Orthodox Church is a subversive organization. Properly speaking, the entire church ought to be put in prison.' In the event the tribunal condemned ten of the defendants to death but later pardoned six of them. The other four, including Metropolitan Veniamin, were executed on the night of 12 August.     The Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church had now begun in earnest. Over the following weeks and months there were a further twenty-two church trials in the provinces. `Here and there in the provincial centres,' Solzhenitsyn wrote, `and even further down in the administrative districts, metropolitans and bishops were arrested, and, as always, in the wake of the big fish, followed shoals of smaller fry: archpriests, monks, and deacons. These arrests were not even reported in the press ... Men of religion were an inevitable part of every annual "catch", and their silver locks gleamed in every cell and in every prisoner transport en route to the Solovetsky Islands.'     Other victims of the newly declared war on religion included the `Eastern Catholics' -- followers of Vladimir Solovyev -- and ordinary Roman Catholics such as Polish priests, as well as believers in a multitude of different religious sects ranging from theosophists to spiritualists. Later, as the manic effort to eradicate Christianity gathered pace throughout the twenties and thirties, the Soviet regime began the mass arrest of ordinary Orthodox believers. Again, Solzhenitsyn described this intensification of state-organized persecution in The Gulag Archipelago : `Monks and nuns, whose black habits had been a distinctive feature of Old Russian life, were intensively rounded up on every hand, placed under arrest, and sent into exile. They arrested and sentenced active laymen. The circles kept getting bigger, as they raked in ordinary believers as well, old people, and particularly women, who were the most stubborn believers of all and who, for many long years to come, would be called "nuns" in transit prisons and in camps.'     The grim irony of the situation was that religious faith , technically speaking, was still not a crime. The crime was in mentioning it. In the twenties, for instance, the religious education of children was classified as a political offence under Article 58-10 of the Code -- in other words, counter-revolutionary propaganda. All persons convicted received ten-year sentences, the longest term then given. The absurdity beggars belief: a person was allowed by law to be convinced that he possessed spiritual truth but was required, on pain of imprisonment, to conceal the fact from everyone else, even his own children.     The bitter humour of this state of affairs was not lost on the poet Tanya Khodkevich: You can pray freely But just so God alone can hear. She too received a ten-year sentence for expressing her sense of humour in this way.     George Orwell, of course, was to develop the concept of `doublethink' one step further: in Nineteen Eighty-Four the thought itself became a crime. Yet, although Orwellian thought-crime had not, at this stage, entered the Soviet criminal code, the fact would have come as cold comfort to those languishing in prison camps throughout the Soviet Union.     Although the young Solzhenitsyn remained oblivious to the suffering inflicted on an older generation of Russians, it is significant that his earliest memory relates to an incident connected to the state persecution of the church. It occurred in 1922 or 1923, at the very height of the wave of attacks on the church which followed the show trials of leading churchmen in Moscow and St Petersburg. Solzhenitsyn was three or four years old and he was attending church in Kislovodsk with his mother. `There were lots of people, candles, vestments ... then something happened: the service was brusquely interrupted. I wanted a better view, so my mother held me up at arm's length and I looked over the heads of the crowd. I saw, filing arrogantly down the central aisle of the nave, the sugarloaf "Budenny" hats of Soviet soldiers. It was the period when the government was confiscating church property all over Russia.' The soldiers `sliced through the dumbstruck crowd of worshippers', invaded the sanctuary beyond the altar screen and stopped the service.     For the toddler, held aloft by his mother to get a better view, it was all too much to take in and way beyond his childish powers of comprehension. Yet even to the adults in the congregation the rude interruption by armed soldiers must have seemed incomprehensible, a bad dream. To those beleaguered believers it must have seemed that the world about them had gone mad.     Nevertheless life retained some sort of normality and throughout the twenties Solzhenitsyn was able to enjoy a childhood relatively unimpeded by events in the world at large. Even by the end of the decade, when he had developed an interest in politics, he remained blissfully unaware of the hidden horrors unfolding around him: even as a callow adolescent I ... was staggered by the fraudulence of the famous trials -- but nothing led me to draw the line connecting those minute Moscow trials (which seemed so tremendous at the time) with the huge crushing wheel rolling through the land (the number of its victims somehow escaped notice). I had spent my childhood in queues -- for bread, for milk, for meal (meat was a thing unknown at that time) -- but I could not make the connection between the lack of bread and the ruin of the countryside, or understand why it had happened. We were provided with another formula: `temporary difficulties'. Every night, in the large town where we lived, hour after hour after hour people were being hauled off to jail -- but I did not walk the streets at night. And in the daytime the families of those arrested hung out no black flags, nor did my classmates say a word about their fathers being taken away. According to the newspapers there wasn't a cloud in the sky. And young men are so eager to believe that all is well. Copyright © 1999 Joseph Pearce. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. IX
Prefacep. XI
1. Child of the Revolutionp. 1
2. Blissful Ignorancep. 13
3. Man and Wifep. 34
4. Man of Warp. 44
5. Arrested Developmentp. 61
6. Hell into Purgatoryp. 71
7. Profit from Lossp. 86
8. Life and Deathp. 104
9. Beautiful Exilep. 118
10. Ivan the Terriblep. 136
11. Too Hot to Handlep. 154
12. Old Enemies and New Friendsp. 168
13. 'I Feel Sorry for Russia'p. 184
14. Out in the Coldp. 196
15. Cold-Shoulderedp. 214
16. Champion of Orthodoxyp. 230
17. Russia Rebornp. 246
18. Rebuilding on Green Foundationsp. 260
19. A Prophet at Homep. 278
20. Solzhenitsyn at Eighty: Pessimistic Optimistp. 297
Appendix New Prose Poemsp. 315
Indexp. 329