This study of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) and his writings focuses on his reflections on the religiopolitical trajectories of Russia and the West, understood as distinct civilizations. What perhaps most sets Russia apart from the West is the Orthodox Christian faith. The mature Solzhenitsyn returned to the Orthodox faith of his childhood while serving an eight-year sentence in the GULag Archipelago. He believed that when men forget God, communism or a similar catastrophe is likely to be their fate. In his examination of the author and his work, Lee Congdon explores the consequences of the atheistic socialism that drove the Russian revolutionary movement. Beginning with a description of the post-revolutionary Russia into which Solzhenitsyn was born, Congdon outlines the Bolshevik victory in the civil war, the origins of the concentration camp system, and the Bolsheviks' war on Christianity and the Russian Orthodox Church. He then focuses on Solzhenitsyn's arrest near the war's end, his time in the labor camps, and his struggle with cancer.
Congdon describes his time in exile and increasing alienation from the Western way of life, as well as his return home and his final years. He concludes with a reminder of Solzhenitsyn's warning to the West that it was on a path parallel to that which Russia had followed into the abyss. This important study will appeal to scholars and educated general readers with an interest in Solzhenitsyn, Russia, Christianity, and the fate of Western civilization.
Lee Congdon is professor emeritus of history at James Madison University and the author of six previous books, including George Kennan: A Writing Life and Seeing Red: Hungarian Intellectuals in Exile and the Challenge of Communism (NIU Press, 2001). He has been a Fulbright research scholar in Budapest and a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.