For years he wrote in secret. Neither his colleagues nor his students suspected that the man then teaching physics would in a few years become a Nobel Prize-winning novelist, a world-renowned prophetic figure, and an exile from the land he loved. In an autobiographical sketch he says, “During all the years until 1961 not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime but also I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known. Finally … I decided to emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

That small novel (it has no chapter divisions and reads more like an extended short story) catapulted Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn to worldwide literary fame. Soviet reviewers were nearly unanimous in praising book and author: “The story … is written with the sure hand of a mature, unique master. A powerful talent has come into our literature.” “As befits a real artist he has told us a truth that cannot be forgotten, that is staring us in the face.” “The effect of this novel, which is so unusual for its honesty and harrowing truth, is to unburden our minds.… It … strengthens and ennobles us.”

One Day was published in November, 1962. In December, 1963, the Union of Writers of the U.S.S.R. nominated it for a Lenin Prize. Four months later it was removed from the list of nominees and taken off library shelves. One Day was the only one of Solzhenitsyn’s novels to be officially published in the Soviet Union; the others circulate in samizdat, a word meaning “self-publishing,” used for typescripts of books forbidden publication.

By 1967 members of the Writers Union not only refused to help Solzhenitsyn get Cancer ...

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