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MonkeyNotes-One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was born on December 11, 1918 in Kislovodsk, Russia. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a landowner, who was killed in a hunting accident six months before his birth. Alexander was raised in poverty by his mother. The young mother moved with her son to Rostov-on-Don when Alexander was a small child. Although their life was difficult, Alexander attended school in Rostov-on-Don and was a good student. After graduation, he entered the University of Rostov to study mathematics and physics, but his real interest was in literature. As a result, he took a literary correspondence course from the University of Moscow and began to write poetry.

Alexander married in 1940 and graduated from the University a year later, in 1941. When Germany invaded Russia, he joined the Red Army and became an artillery officer. Although he was promoted to the rank of captain, he was arrested in February of 1945 for his criticism of Stalin. Solzhenitsyn was sent to prison to serve a sentence of eight long years, first in a labor camp, then in a prison research institute, and finally in a special camp at Kazakhstan. He conceived the idea of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich while he was at the Siberian special camp. He also continued to write poetry.


Like Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn found that life in a prison camp was very difficult. Forced to constantly wear his number, printed several places on his uniform, he was never treated as a person. In spite of the misery he had to endure, he was determined to make the best of a bad situation and to survive. He even managed to recuperate from an operation for cancer while in the camp. Finally, after eight long years, Solzhenitsyn was released, but he was not allowed to leave Siberia. To support himself, he became a mathematics teacher in high school.

In 1957, Solzhenitsyn was permitted to leave Siberia. He settled in Ryazan, located about one hundred miles southeast of Moscow, and took a job as a high school teacher of mathematics and physics. He also began to write. In 1962, he published One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in a literary magazine. Although the novel was critical of Stalin and the Soviet Regime, it was tolerated by Premier Khruschev, because he was also critical of some of Stalin’s tactics. The novel was widely read and immediately popular. He then published two short stories: “We Never Make Mistakes” (1963) and “For the Good of the Cause” (1964).

By late 1964, the Soviet government had grown uncomfortable with the outspoken Solzhenitsyn, and he often received political threats. Even though he was nominated for the Lenin Prize, the most valuable literary award in Russia, he did not win. In 1965, his private papers were taken by the secret police, and he was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers, which meant he could no longer publish his work in Russia. As a result, he was forced to smuggle his novels out of the country and publish them abroad. The First Circle (1968), Cancer Ward (1968), August 1914 (1972), the three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago (1973-1975), and Mortal Danger (1980) were all published abroad. His memoirs, The Oak and the Calf, were also published abroad in 1980.

In 1971, Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he did not attend the ceremony in Sweden, for he feared he would not be permitted to re-enter the Soviet Union. In February of 1974, after The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris, he was and charged with treason for his criticism of the Soviet Regime. Since his Soviet citizenship was renounced, he was forced to permanently leave Russia. He originally lived in Germany, but settled in Switzerland. Later, he moved to the United States.

In September 1991, the Soviet officials dropped his charges of treason and granted him permission to return to his homeland. In 1994, he returned to live in Russia, but he continues to criticize the Russian government and to praise the basic goodness of the common Russian people. In 1995, Solzhenitsyn published “Invisible Allies,” a tribute to the people who earlier helped him smuggle his writing out of the USSR.

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