Solzhenitsyn’s Journey From Oppression to Independence

The Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), one of the great writers of the 20th century, helped to inform the world about the evils of the Gulag, the Soviet prison-camp system, in books such as “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “The Gulag Archipelago.” Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, he was forced to leave the Soviet Union four years later, and in 1976 he settled with his family in Cavendish, Vt., where he lived for the next 18 years.

In this excerpt from his memoir, written in 1982 and published here in English for the first time, Solzhenitsyn describes the pleasure he took in his American life, communing with nature and working undisturbed on his magnum opus, “The Red Wheel,” a cycle of historical novels about Russia during World War I and the Revolution. This selection is adapted from “Between Two Millstones, Book 2: Exile in America, 1978-1994,” translated by Clare Kitson and Melanie Moore, which will be published by University of Notre Dame Press in November.

In solitude you’re happy—you’re a poet, as Pushkin discovered when comparing his creative periods in seclusion with those in the bustle of society. I too had always felt, since childhood, that this would be the way. In June 1976, I found my way to the freely chosen solitude I desired, this time in Vermont. And I never ceased to be surprised and grateful: The Lord had indeed put me into the best situation a writer could dream of, and the best of the dismal fates that could have arisen, given our blighted history and the oppression of our country for the last 60 years.

Now I was no longer compelled to write in code, hide things, distribute pieces of writing among my friends. I could keep all my materials open to view, all in one place, and all my manuscripts out on capacious tables.

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