Tributes were being paid today to Nobel-prize winning author and Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who has died aged 89.
Solzhenitsyn, whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, died last night of heart failure, according to his son Stepan.
He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970 for his novels 'One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich', 'The First Circle' and 'The Cancer Ward', which were largely based on his own experiences as a prisoner of the Soviet regime.
As Australian author Thomas Keneally put it: “Stalin once said, ’One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic’. In his books Solzhenitsyn managed to reduce the horror of the Stalinist regime to a human and palpable level.”
South African writer and fellow Nobel laureate JM Coetzee described him as “a colossus of our times” and “a great Russian patriot”.
He said: “Alexander Solzhenitsyn was... a man of immense personal courage, and, as a writer, the one indisputable heir of Tolstoy.”
Solzhenitsyn’s accounts of his eight years inside the Soviet gulag system brought worldwide acclaim and a 20-year stint in exile in the United States.
Keneally, who wrote Booker prize-winning novel 'Schindler’s Ark', described Solzhenitsyn’s works as “of the highest order” and “acutely memorable”.
He said: “His books came out of intense human suffering and in my opinion that is one of the reasons why he deserved his Nobel Prize.”
While living as a recluse in the small town of Cavendish, Vermont, with his wife and sons, Solzhenitsyn criticised Western culture for what he saw as its weakness and decadence.
During this time, he wrote an epic saga of Russian history entitled 'The Red Wheel', which failed to attract the same interest as his earlier works, either in the West or in his homeland.
Keneally added: “All Solzhenitsyn’s great work was instigated by his experience of tyranny. Personal freedom, once he got it, didn’t give him a lot to write about. That was, I suppose, because in his way he was a creation of the Soviet system; that was his subject matter.
“There is the question of: what do you do in a place that is giving you shelter but is not really yours?”