Alexander Solzhenitsyn died last Sunday night. I can’t think of anyone else whose memoirs and true-life-based writings helped change an empire. Solzhenitsyn’s novels were built on his experiences caught in the Soviet “meat grinder” of arrests for simple or made-up crimes resulting in years in the horrific slave labor camps under Stalin. The Oak and the Calf, his literary memoir, was the story of himself as a persecuted writer against the Soviet totalitarianism – futile as a calf butting against an oak tree and yet the tree fell. His Gulag Archipelago trilogy, a lengthy narrative of personal experiences, eyewitness testimony and research, was the final blow that destroyed any sympathy left for the Russian regime. His life is a complicated story of one man’s strong integrity that allowed him to remain his own man by standing up to both the USSR and to Western culture. Son Stephan, when asked if he had learned anything from his father, stated, “Yes, that truth isn’t always popular.”
Granted, most of us will never have the opportunity to change the world through our lifewriting, but we may in our own small way change someone’s world by sharing, teaching, and inspiring.