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The Guardian/UK

Solzhenitsyn, Soviet Dissident Writer, Dies at 89

Damien Franics

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet dissident writer and Nobel prize winner who revealed the horror of Stalin's brutal labour camps to the world, has died at the age of 89, his son said last night. Stepan Solzhenitsyn said his father had died of heart failure at his home, but declined further comment.0804 02 1

The author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system was lauded as a moral and spiritual leader as well as one of the greatest writers of his time. His unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union's slave labour camps riveted his compatriots, whose secret history he exposed. His writings earned him 20 years of exile and international renown, making him one of the most prominent dissidents of the Soviet era and a symbol of intellectual resistance to communist rule.

His monumental work the Gulag Archipelago, written in secrecy in the Soviet Union and published in Paris in three volumes between 1973 and 1978, is the definitive work on Stalin's camps, where tens of millions perished.

Last year he was awarded one of Russia's highest honours, the state prize. In announcing the award Yury Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, called Solzhenitsyn "the author of works without which the history of the 20th century is unthinkable".

His experience in the labour camps was described in his short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. His major works, including The First Circle and Cancer Ward, brought him global admiration and the 1970 Nobel prize for literature.

Stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile in 1974 after the publication of the Gulag Archipelago the writer settled in the United States.

But in 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev, allowed the publication of Solzhenitsyn's works as part of his perestroika reforms and restored his Soviet citizenship, enabling Solzhenitsyn to return as a hero in 1994.

He was born on December 11 1918, in Kislovodsk, southern Russia, and grew up a loyal communist and staunch supporter of the Soviet regime. Solzhenitsyn studied physics and mathematics at Rostov University before becoming a Soviet army officer after Hitler's invasion in 1941. As a student he edited the Komsomol newspaper and was awarded one of only seven Stalin scholarships for outstanding social and scholastic achievement.

It was while at university that he began to write short stories, and drafted the plan for an immense Tolstoyan novel intended to celebrate the October revolution. But his devotion to socialist principles and indiscreet hostility to Stalin's autocratic rule led to his undoing.

Shortly before the war's end, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in the labour camps.

For many years he had little expectation that his writings would see the light of day but the daring One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich caused a sensation. Its revelations about Stalin's policies and the evils of the labour camps were described as "a literary miracle". Within weeks his name was known all over the world.

Last night the Russian government expressed its condolences over his death. "President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his condolences to Solzhenitsyn's family," a Kremlin spokesman said.

 © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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