The Body in Question   /   Summer 2015   /    Book Reviews

The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth about a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker by Daniel J. Mahoney

James L. Nolan Jr.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), the Nobel Prize−winning author whose writings did much to expose the atrocities of the communist system in the Soviet Union, was exiled by the Soviet government in 1974. Four years later, while living with his family in Cavendish, Vermont, he was invited to give the commencement address at Harvard University. Much to the surprise and chagrin of many, Solzhenitsyn took aim not only at the despotic system from which he had been exiled but at the flaws of Western democratic capitalism as well. Asking himself whether he “would propose the West, such as it is today, as a model to my country, ” he responded unequivocally: “I would frankly have to answer negatively.” To put it mildly, the lecture was not well received. From a number of camps, thereafter, both in the West and in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn was viewed with suspicion if not outright derision. The author of The Gulag Archipelago has been variously accused of being anti-democratic, pan-Slavist, a Russian nationalist, an authoritarian scold, an anti-Semite, a theocratic tsarist, even a nostalgist for communism.

Daniel Mahoney’s new book, The Other Solzhenitsyn, goes far toward debunking the caricature of Solzhenitsyn that has emerged over the past four decades, and demonstrates the courage, wisdom, and trenchant thinking of the man who first garnered worldwide notice with the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962. Some of the misunderstanding, according to Mahoney, a professor of political science at Assumption College, in Worcester, Massachusetts, stems from the lack of familiarity with Solzhenitsyn’s later works, many of which have yet to be translated into English. Mahoney highlights, in particular, Solzhenitsyn’s work from his years of exile and after his return to Russia in 1994, including Two Hundred Years Together, The Little Grain Managed to Land Between Two Millstones, Rebuilding Russia, Russia in Collapse, and his magnum opus, The Red Wheel.

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