This is a story about the power of the written word. in 1945, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in the labor camps for criticizing Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in letters to a friend; 17 years later, he turned his experience into One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the first literary work to describe the brutalities of prison under Stalin. It catapulted Solzhenitsyn to fame, but after the praise came persecution.
Solzhenitsyn's books were banned and kgb surveillance intensified. Yet still he kept writing, secretly sending novels abroad. The first part of his epic three-volume work, The Gulag Archipelago, was published in Paris in 1973. It enraged the government and Solzhenitsyn was exiled abroad, which for a Russian writer, he said, amounted to a spiritual death. That death was to last for 20 years.
Now 87 and back home, he's still unwilling to stay quiet. He turned down new Russia's highest state award to protest "the all-out plundering of the country" he felt had been condoned by the post-Soviet regime. But he doesn't believe in blaming bad government for all ills. On Feb. 12, 1974, the same day that the kgb broke into his apartment to arrest him, Live Not by Lies was published. It was a manifesto on how to fight oppression: "It is not they who are to blame for everything we are to blame ourselves, we alone ... And the simplest key to liberation is this: personal nonparticipation in lies."
It's a philosophy that is today just as relevant in his homeland and in the wider world as it was in Russia's totalitarian past.