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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Literature is your memory

 “Literature transmits incontrovertible condensed experience … from generation to generation.  In this way literature becomes the living memory of a nation.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I’ve been reading the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett, and one of the interesting side stories in Book 3 is about a Soviet dissident who is imprisoned in Siberia and then not only finds a way to write down the experience but also how to smuggle the story out to a publisher abroad.

It is, of course, the story of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who, in turn, wrote some of the great pieces of world literature in his historic novels The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.  If you have never read them, I can’t stress enough how much I encourage you to do so – to see great writing unfold in conversations and images that Solzhenitsyn shares and to have a true understanding of the horrors that faced ordinary people daring to confront the evil of totalitarianism. 


 Born this day in 1918, Solzhenitsyn spent nearly half his life either in prison, in work camps, or in exile for writing with honesty and a genuine willingness to stand for those ordinary people in the work he created.   After being exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, he lived for a number of years in the U.S. where he continued to turn out amazing literature before he was finally able to return to Russia in 1994, where he lived out his days, dying in his beloved Moscow in 2008.

Awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature” Solzhenitsyn gave this advice to writers willing to stand for social justice:  “Own only what you can always carry with you; (and) know languages, know countries, know people.  Let your memory be your travel bag.”

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