Monday, August 04, 2008

R.I.P. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

By coincidence, I'm in the middle of reading The Gulag Archipelago, one of those books everyone's heard of, but few have actually read. It's an astonishing book, that describes events that are hardly imaginable in their horror, and I hope you understand what I mean when I say that if it weren't so readable it would be unreadable. So it gave me an extra jolt this morning to turn on the radio just as the newsreader announced the death of Solzhenitsyn.

I feel like I've chickened out a bit, reading the abridged version rather than the full three volumes, but at the time the abridged version seemed less intimidating, and was also in the bookshop. Now that I'm about a third of the way through, I wish I'd gone straight to the unexpurgated version, so compelling is his prose. It's not just a catalogue of violence though; what shines through the relentless stream of nightmarish scenes is an extraordinary indomitableness of spirit. To read about such things may seem difficult, but it is necessary: because it's important, not just to know what depths humans are capable of sinking to, but to know that there are those who are brave enough to survive them.

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