Jewdar would like to extend condolences to the family of Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, a man whom we always considered both a great writer and a man of tremendous courage. Solzhenitsyn’s personal odyssey (and we use that in the sense not merely of a journey, but a journey laden with peril and suffering) is too long and complex to address here (and that’s why God made Wikipedia), but for all his faults, his revered place in the history of opposition to one of the most brutal regimes in history is well deserved. Though he was primarily a writer of personal and historical fiction, it is his great work of history, Gulag Archipelago, that is perhaps his most important literary legacy. It is a must read, and the best antidote for those young, naive, or just plain blind who maintain for themselves the fiction that Stalin corrupted the "pure and noble" experiment established by Lenin. Moreover, in a world full of fraudulent memoirs and tell-all biographies, we should appreciate the fact that Solzhenitsyn never claimed any special place in the world of suffering, and always noted that, in the world of the gulag, he had it relatively easy.
For many of his admirers, the most painful element of his life and writing has to do with the question of the Jews. We’ve read a lot of his work, and we certainly know a little something about antisemitism, and we don’t think the charge works with him. That may be because of our own blindness to his faults, but we believe much of the problem comes from his own blindness to the faults of the Russian people. We’d say he was a Russian first, and an Orthodox Christian second, except that to him those were inseparable. To us, he is primarily guilty of narrative tunnel vision–he has a story to tell, one that exonerates the Russian people of their own vices, and destroys the illusion of communist virtue. If at times that led him to ignore certain truths, and exaggerate others, at no point in his writings does one detect any actual animus, or desire to see harm befall the Jews, and it is telling that whatever Jewish critics he has, the ones in the dissident movement who knew him best are not among their numbers.
Perhaps the best that one can say is that Solzhenitsyn’s work inspired generations of Russians to question the regime, and in doing so, helped bring the day when that regime could no longer sustain itself. He had the good fortune of knowing that his writing helped make the world a better place, and what more could a writer–or anyone–hope for?