November 01, 1997

From Horrors to Hope

When Russian readers pick up Penthouse instead of The Gulag Archipelago and TV viewers turn on Dallas instead of Solzhenitsyn’s talking-head program, a sad irony is on display. Solzhenitsyn’s books reached their primary intended audience just when social chaos put serious reading out of fashion for the first time in memory.

Roy Medvedev merits respect for his demonstrations of independent thinking. But he and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have long-standing differences, starting with their views of Soviet Communism and its founder, Lenin. This conflict is the subtext of an essay supposedly intended to celebrate an anniversary in a writer’s great achievement, and it helps explain the essay’s negative spin and especially its startling omissions.

Resistance to Solzhenitsyn has always been strongest among intellectuals and politicians. In large part, this resistance illustrates a disconnect in which secular people cannot fathom the motivations of the religiously informed mind. The Christian faith to which Solzhenitsyn came in prison has given his sensational life a seamless coherence; but seldom do his critics approach this deepest level of his being, so they get other things wrong, too.

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