Reflection on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100

On November 30, 2018, the Buckley Program hosted host a lunch and discussion on the legendary Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, this event offered a discussion on his life and work. The program featured Daniel J. Mahoney and Jay Nordlinger. Mr. Nordlinger is a Senior Editor at National Review and a Fellow of the National Review Institute, and he has written frequently for National Review on the subject of Solzhenitsyn. Mr. Mahoney is a Professor of Politics at Assumption College. He is associate editor of Perspectives on Political Science, book review editor for Society magazine, and the author of the critically acclaimed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology.

By: Shaurya Salwan

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated writers and is even considered to be one of its greatest individuals.

Before this event, I had never heard of him. In fact, the first time I even saw his name was via a post that popped up on my Facebook feed. It was the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s advertisement of a lunchtime discussion entitled “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100.” A quick google search revealed that he was an author I really shouldhave known, and I had already been to a few great Buckley events, so I signed up. Thankfully, the event did not disappoint.

In lieu of a simple overview of the author’s life and achievements, experts Jay Nordlinger and Daniel Mahoney balanced interesting facts on Solzhenitsyn and personal anecdotes about their own experiences with his work. The effect of this choice was certainly tangible during the conversation and discussion. By understanding Solzhenitsyn, first and foremost, as another human being rather than just an artistic genius, they added a new dimension to his works. This was helpful both to those who, like me, had little knowledge of the author, and to those who had read him extensively. Of course, he exposed the terrors of totalitarianism in his writing, but those terrors become much more vivid as we were told tales of his own actual hardships in the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn started magazines as a child and memorized entire works of literature during his imprisonment, but he was still another victim in many ways.

His work is even further complicated by the account Nordlinger and Mahoney gave of his time in the US. He dearly missed his mother country, a country that likely would have killed him had he remained much longer. He hated the government, surely, but still loved many of its people. Such knowledge multiplies ways in which we can view his texts, and aids in extracting from them the many deep and complicated truths they contain.

A ninety-minute conversation, of course, is no replacement for further reading, but it allowed those familiar to reevaluate what they already read. As for me, the talk convinced me that, at the very least, I need to go out and buy some copies.

Shaurya Salwan is a first-year in Davenport College.