Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solzhenitsyn mattered

I did an editorial on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died over the weekend, that will be in tomorrow's (well, today's) Register. The gist was that while writers may cherish the slogan that the pen is mightier than the sword, deep down we know that's very seldom true. But Solzhenitsyn's pen was mightier than the Soviet state, which was one reason they had to exile him. And then he outlived Sovietism, which a lot of Russian exiles didn't.

It developed, of course, that Solzhenitsyn was something of a traditional Orthodox Russian nationalist rather than a liberal democrat or libertarian, with perhaps a too-tolerant relationship to anti-Semitism, which turned a lot of people off. Still, he was a literary giant and he played a pivotal role in the end of communism.

I was in the same room with him only once, shortly after he came to the U.S. around 1974 -- maybe it was '75 when he was invited to a reception at the U.S. Senate -- and famously not invited to the White House on Kissinger's advice. I was working for Rep. Bob Bauman of Maryland at the time, and fellow staffer Ron Docksai (a former YAF national chairman) and I wanted to see Solzhenitsyn, so we walked over to the Senate. But the reception was only for members of Congress and a few other select invitees. Fortunately, along the way we got to talking with Rev. Robert Drinan, the famously left-wing Rep. from Massachusetts, and when we got to the event he said "they're with me" and we got in.

But the room was further divided, with only MCs allowed on the side where Solzhenitsyn was. I had brought along my copy of the novel,"The First Circle"with the idea of getting it autographed, but I couldn't get to where the author was. So I asked then-Sen. John Culver of Iowa, (another left-wing Democrat) if he would get it done, which he did. I think he was pleased because he was able to present a book that had obviously been read rather than having been bought new that morning, creating the impression that he read books (which most politicians don't do). And Solzhenitsyn looked pleased to see a copy of his book that had obviously been read.

Alas, when my first wife and I divorced, she kept the book, saying the autograph was just rare enough (it said U.S. Senate and the date, and there weren't more than a few other books autographed at that event) that it might put the kids through college if she decided to sell it. I don't know if she ever did or not.

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