Monday, August 4

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died yesterday.

I know, he was a difficult man to admire unreservedly. He had opinions (especially about Western culture, the United States, and certain ethnic groups) that many people found -- and still find -- troubling.

But the books --

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch marked me for life.

An anecdote from the NYTimes profile by Michael T. Kaufman:

"Mr. Solzhenitsyn was banished to a desolate penal camp in Kazakhstan called Ekibastuz. . . .

"At Ekibastuz, any writing would be seized as contraband. So he devised a method that enabled him to retain even long sections of prose. After seeing Lithuanian Catholic prisoners fashion rosaries out of beads made from chewed bread, he asked them to make a similar chain for him, but with more beads. In his hands, each bead came to represent a passage that he would repeat to himself until he could say it without hesitation. Only then would he move on to the next bead. He later wrote that by the end of his prison term, he had committed to memory 12,000 lines in this way."

Also from the profile:

"Grigori Baklanov, a respected novelist and writer about World War II, declared that the story was one of those rare creations after which 'it is impossible to go on writing as one did before.'"

And:

"He wrote that while an ordinary man was obliged 'not to participate in lies,' artists had greater responsibilities. 'It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!'"

I am humbled by his passing. He is one of the writers who can remind us why the shit we do counts for something.

2 comments:

Greene said...

I didn't know what to think when I first read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." I still don't really. I don't think you can judge this stuff fairly--I don't think we as "happy, healthy Americans" have the proper lens for viewing it.

I hope he leaves no one greiving behind.

steve said...

Always a shame to lose the people that made an impact through their devotion and passion for a medium.