Local Obituaries

Chronicler of Soviet labor camp horrors dies

MOSCOW — Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author whose books chronicled the horrors of dictator Josef Stalin's slave labor camps, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. Mr. Solzhenitsyn was 89.

Stepan Solzhenitsyn said his father died late Sunday in Moscow; he declined further comment.

Through unflinching accounts of the eight years he spent in the Soviet Gulag, Mr. Solzhenitsyn's novels and non-fiction works exposed the secret history of the vast prison system that enslaved millions.

Beginning with the 1962 short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn (Sol-zhe-NEET-sin) devoted himself to describing what he called the human ”meat grinder“ that had caught him along with millions of other Soviet citizens: capricious arrests, often for trifling and seemingly absurd reasons, followed by sentences to slave labor camps where cold, starvation and punishing work crushed inmates physically and spiritually.

His Gulag Archipelago trilogy of the 1970s shocked readers by describing the savagery of the Soviet state under Stalin.

But his account of the secret prison camps was also inspiring in its description of how one person — Solzhenitsyn himself — survived, physically and spiritually, in a crushing penal system.

The West offered him shelter and accolades, but Mr. Solzhenitsyn also criticized Western culture for what he considered its weakness and decadence.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994 and later expressed annoyance and disappointment that most Russians hadn't read his books.

During the 1990s, his nationalist views, his devout Orthodoxy, his disdain for capitalism and disgust with the new tycoons were unfashionable. He faded from public view.

But under Vladimir Putin's 2000-2008 presidency, Mr. Solzhenitsyn's vision of Russia as a place with a unique culture and destiny, gained renewed prominence.

Putin now argues, as Mr. Solzhenitsyn did, that Russia has a separate civilization from the West that can't be reconciled to Communism or western-style liberal democracy, but requires a system adapted to its history and traditions.

Born Dec. 11, 1918, in Kislovodsk, Mr. Solzhenitsyn served as a front-line artillery captain in World War II, where, in the closing weeks of the war, he was arrested for writing what he called ”certain disrespectful remarks“ about Stalin in a letter to a friend. He served seven years in a labor camp and three more years in exile.

That is when he began to write.

His first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, is the story of a carpenter struggling to survive in a Soviet labor camp.

The book was published in 1962 by order of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was eager to discredit the abuses of Stalin, his predecessor.

After Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, Mr. Solzhenitsyn began facing KGB harassment, publication of his works was blocked and he was expelled from the Soviet Writers Union. But he was undeterred.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.

Soviet authorities barred the author from traveling to Stockholm to receive the award and official attacks were intensified in 1973 when the first book in the non-fiction Gulag trilogy appeared in Paris.

The next year, he was arrested on a treason charge and expelled the next day to West Germany in handcuffs.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn then made his homeland in America, settling in 1976 in the tiny town of Cavendish, Vermont, with his wife and sons.

Then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev restored Mr. Solzhenitsyn's citizenship in 1990 and the treason charge was finally dropped in 1991, less than a month after a failed Soviet coup. Mr. Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994.

He is survived by his wife, Natalya, and his three sons, including Stepan, Ignat, a pianist and conductor, and Yermolai. All live in the United States.