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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Reading Update

I just finished reading Cancer Ward, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Have you read anything by Solzhenitsyn? This is an author that I have heard about quite often, but never really knew about him. I sought out a Solzhenitsyn novel after reading a blurb on National Review Online's The Corner about some young college graduate who--horrors!--had not read Solzhenitsyn. I cringed knowing that I, too, had never read his books and really didn't even know much about him.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian author (1918-2008), is a favorite of conservative lovers of liberty because of his personal story, which became the thread of his fiction fabric, and brave stand for truth. Solzhenitsyn served in the Soviet army in World War II, only to be arrested in 1945 because his letters to a friend caught the eye of a censor. They deemed his letters to be anti-Stalin (and indeed he was unhappy with the dictator, but wrote in code about him in letters). Lacking sufficient evidence to charge him, they sentenced him anyway to eight years in a prison camp. Following that, he was exiled.

Cancer Ward is considered partly autobiographical, as Solzhenitsyn was treated for cancer while in exile. The novel is set in a cancer wing of a Soviet hospital in Uzbekistan. The ward itself represents the communist life of Russia, post-Stalin (set in 1955, in the years after Stalin's death), and the characters themselves represent different sorts of players in Soviet life--Communist Party loyalists, exiled prisoners, ordinary citizens--and their moral responsibilities for the ugly sins of the Stalin era. The tumors can be seen as the disease under which Russia suffered, permanently damaging the body of Russian society.

My understanding of the Cold War is, obviously, from a Western perspective, and my concept of day-to-day life for those behind the Iron Curtain is a vague, colorless, and formless idea of oppression. This novel brought into sharp focus just how oppressive life is in a totalitarian state and what that means to individuals struggling to make lives for themselves that have some significance.

As our own nation contemplates the proper role of government in our society, Solzhenitsyn's writings are more relevant than ever. I'm guessing that most of us born after 1970 are barely aware of what life was like under the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Cancer Ward helps illustrate, among other things, that working for the greater good of a collective (or a society) inevitably tramples the individual.


stpetric said...

Have I read anything by Solzhenitsyn? Yes, quite a bit! I was in college in the early '70s as he won the Nobel, "Gulag" was published, and he was expelled from the USSR, and that's I when I read everything of his I could get my hands on.

I was not a "conservative lover of liberty" of whom he was a favorite. Rather, his personal story, his fiction, and his brave stand for truth contributed to my conversion from standard-issue liberalism to more conservative values.

Keep reading! If you haven't read "In the First Circle", give it a look; or his short stories. Reading the entire "Gulag Archipelago" is a major undertaking, but there is a one-volume abridgment available.

Mrs. Edwards said...

I suppose you think it pathetic that I have to ask, "Have you read anything by Solzhenitsyn?" However, I think that many of my generation have not read his works. Thanks for the encouragement to keep reading!

stpetric said...

I think you're right that he's no longer widely read (more's the pity). I had a clerk at a bookstore -- A BOOKSTORE!!! -- say, "who?" when I asked about a book of his. <At this point you need to visualize me rolling my eyes.>

So being a "glass half-full" kind of guy, I'm delighted that you picked up a book of his in the first place!

The Dave Hawk Family said...

I picked up Gulag Archipelago this past year-- it was so long, but I made it through. Wow- it was an eye opener. I have never met anyone else who is interested in reading him- his story intrigued me. Funny- you are going to read Edwards this year? That is one of my resolutions this year- to get through his completed works sold by DG- just ordered it last Tuesday! Every time I come to your blog it is so encouraging! Yes! There is someone else like me! :) And btw, I know just how you feel about looking at your pregnant tummy at 5 months and feeling like it is 7!! Every one of mine were like that- it will be over soon, and it is so good that the Lord spoke to you so plainly that morning with just what you needed to hear. Don't we have a wonderful, caring, patient Father??

Mrs. Edwards said...

Mrs. Hawk (can I call you that?),
Thank you for your note. I'll have to read Gulag Archipelago. I am reading Jonathan Edwards! I've wanted to for a long time and am finally following through. When I read "Freedom of the Will" I think I absorbed about half of it, but I really found John Piper's book God's Passion for His Glory very helpful in preparing me to understand "The End for Which God Created the World" more fully.

Praise God for our wonderful, caring Father, indeed!

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