Solzhenitsyn’s Mission

I have fulfilled my duty to those who perished. The truth about all this was doomed to perish -- they had tried to stifle it, drown it, burn it and grind it to powder. But here it is...and no one can ever wipe it out again.

The first volume of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris on this day in 1973. The writing of the book was surrounded by a swirl of author secrecy and secret police snooping; when a typist was tortured into revealing the whereabouts of one copy of the manuscript and driven to suicide over guilt for doing so, Solzhenitsyn felt compelled to publish.

In his 2007 study The Whisperers, Orlando Figes looks beyond the 25 million Gulag victims, and the tens of millions who, as members of those victims' families, had their lives permanently disrupted and damaged, to the wider and still-evident consequences of the "silent and conformist" nation Stalin's repressive policies created:

In a society where it was thought that people were arrested for loose tongues, families survived by keeping to themselves. They learned to live double lives, concealing from the eyes and ears of dangerous neighbors, and sometimes even from their own children, information and opinions, religious beliefs, family values and traditions, and modes of private existence that clashed with Soviet public norms. They learned to whisper.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

 

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.