Had Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died too young, like so many other forced laborers, the Soviet Union might still be with us. Yet many of the 89-year-old author's eulogists write as if he lived too long.
To be sure, tributes to Solzhenitsyn have reflected the enormity and diversity of his contributions. The Wall Street Journal lauded him for calling evil like it is, saying he "fortified the West with the truth and will to triumph in the Cold War." The Associated Press enthused that his accounts of the Soviet Gulag, most famously One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, "inspired millions, perhaps, with the knowledge that one person's courage and integrity could, in the end, defeat the totalitarian machinery of an empire." The New York Times painted him with vivid color. "Mr. Solzhenitsyn was heir to a morally focused and often prophetic Russian literary tradition, and he looked the part," Michael T. Kaufman wrote. "With his stern visage, lofty brow and full, Old Testament beard, he recalled Tolstoy while suggesting a modern-day Jeremiah, denouncing the evils of the Kremlin and later the mores of the West."
But like Dostoevsky before him, Solzhenitsyn is not so easy for Westerners to understand. Both renowned authors chronicled their time in brutal Russian labor camps. Yet the experience scarcely dimmed either Orthodox Christian's national pride. You might expect the great opponent of Stalin would have worried President Vladimir Putin, under whose leadership Russia has retreated from Western-style democracy. On the contrary, the AP notes that Putin revived "Solzhenitsyn's vision of Russia as a bastion of Orthodox Christianity, as a place with a unique culture and destiny."
America's love affair with the man ...