Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the lesbians

Solzhenitsyn died at age 89.  Here's the AP obituary.

I first read his novel “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” when I was a 17 year old high school senior and it rocked my world.  I had no clue about the larger connection to the Gulag and the Soviet Union or any other political themes.  I just vanished into this intimate description of one not-so-bad day in what seemed a pretty horrible life.  That resonated with me — finding a reason to see what wasn't so bad about any particular day.  Days that were, in fact, pretty bad.  For me, too.

In the early 1990's, I read most of the Solzhenitsyn canon in preparation for my master's thesis in political theory.  Reconciling my increasing feminist perspective with my love for Russian literature proved too overwhelming and I found myself a thousand miles away from graduate school working with poor rural families.  Which led me here.

Solzenhenitsyn never stopped resonating with me, however.  Not when I left the Church.  Not when I identified as a liberal.  Not even when I came out.  It doesn't matter that his female characters are one dimensional and timid, never the hero.  I still get him. 

Russian literature pushed me into social work.  Reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov put the nail in the coffin after reading a passage where one of the brother rails against a God that would allow an innocent child to die at the hands of her own parents.  I remember thinking he would be better served to use his wealth and privilege to help said child than to go about ranting and wailing — it was easier for him to blame God than to take some responsibility for being the change. I know it was a literary device, but I was just done with political theory at that point.  Not so much the political as the theory.  I wanted action.

Man, did that take me down some interesting paths. 

Anyway, Solzhenitsyn is dead.  And I doubt he would want to be lauded by a lesbian, but here we are.  May God rest his soul.

**************************************************************** Note: I made the colossal error of confusing my Russians.  Sooo embarrasassing.  Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are not interchangeable and I'm very sorry for the error.  My favorite work by Tolstoy is “Two Old Men.”  Sheesh.  Some tribute. 

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  • Thanks. I'm not student of literature, but one thing that takes my breath away in his writings is the finest balance between the heart of the individual and the whole big wide world. I really did think “A Day” was written just for me, a scrawny school kid in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. “The Firce Circle” provoked a similar response – it was so intimate. “Cancer Ward” was too painful to read. The Gulag books themselves were pretty overhwelming, but the literature is masterful.

  • Thanks. I'm not student of literature, but one thing that takes my breath away in his writings is the finest balance between the heart of the individual and the whole big wide world. I really did think “A Day” was written just for me, a scrawny school kid in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. “The Firce Circle” provoked a similar response – it was so intimate. “Cancer Ward” was too painful to read. The Gulag books themselves were pretty overhwelming, but the literature is masterful.

  • Dude, Tolstoy did not write The Brothers Karamazov. Get things straight.
    Besides, part of his point was that these cruelties are hidden– how could he go help the said children if he could not find them? Plus, how could he possibly help them all? He is upset at god that these events occur in the first place– what good can Ivan possibly do with all his “wealth and privilege” once the children are already tortured? No matter what he does, it doesn't erase the existence of the traumatic event.

  • Dude, Tolstoy did not write The Brothers Karamazov. Get things straight.
    Besides, part of his point was that these cruelties are hidden– how could he go help the said children if he could not find them? Plus, how could he possibly help them all? He is upset at god that these events occur in the first place– what good can Ivan possibly do with all his “wealth and privilege” once the children are already tortured? No matter what he does, it doesn't erase the existence of the traumatic event.

  • Dude, Tolstoy did not write The Brothers Karamazov. Get things straight.
    Besides, part of his point was that these cruelties are hidden– how could he go help the said children if he could not find them? Plus, how could he possibly help them all? He is upset at god that these events occur in the first place– what good can Ivan possibly do with all his “wealth and privilege” once the children are already tortured? No matter what he does, it doesn't erase the existence of the traumatic event.

  • I'd make a joke about getting things “straight”, except I'm really embarrassed about the mistake. Thanks for catching it.
    I disagree with your interpretation. The cruelties are not hidden — I work in child welfare and nothing much has changed under the sun. He could help prevent the cruelties by reallocating some of those resources AND he could help mitigate the trauma. That's what we do here every day and it does matter.
    Actually, though you proved my point. I read this book in a political theory class that was railing against post-modern “relevatism” in politics. Decrying child abuse while throwing your hands up in the air b/c to actually do something would cost you personally is ridiculous. That absurdity became clear to me when I read this passage. The impact of moral decay on the individual characters was certainly impactful, but the impact on others — the helpless innocent children standing in for the serfs of course — should be the discussion. And it wasn't. At least not at LSU.
    I guess it is interesting b/c Solzhenitsyn struck me on exactly that personal level, but Dostoevsky was the complete opposite — very much about societal structures.
    Hmm …

  • I'd make a joke about getting things “straight”, except I'm really embarrassed about the mistake. Thanks for catching it.
    I disagree with your interpretation. The cruelties are not hidden — I work in child welfare and nothing much has changed under the sun. He could help prevent the cruelties by reallocating some of those resources AND he could help mitigate the trauma. That's what we do here every day and it does matter.
    Actually, though you proved my point. I read this book in a political theory class that was railing against post-modern “relevatism” in politics. Decrying child abuse while throwing your hands up in the air b/c to actually do something would cost you personally is ridiculous. That absurdity became clear to me when I read this passage. The impact of moral decay on the individual characters was certainly impactful, but the impact on others — the helpless innocent children standing in for the serfs of course — should be the discussion. And it wasn't. At least not at LSU.
    I guess it is interesting b/c Solzhenitsyn struck me on exactly that personal level, but Dostoevsky was the complete opposite — very much about societal structures.
    Hmm …

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