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.