4 Aug 2008

Russian Nobel prize winner Solzhenitsyn dies

5:03 pm on 4 August 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel prize winner for literature who graphically portrayed life in Soviet labour camps, has died at the age of 89.

The writer and historian had reportedly been seriously ill for months. The Interfax news agency reported that he died of a stroke, quoting literary sources in Moscow, where the writer lived since 1994, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Solzhenitsyn was born on 11 December 1918. He served in the Red Army in World War II, but in 1945 was convicted for criticising Stalin's conduct of the war and spent the next decade in prison camps and internal exile.

He came to literary prominence in 1962 with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a short novel based on his own labour camp experiences. It was the only work published in his homeland during Soviet rule.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's main work was The Gulag Archipelago, first published in the West in 1973, which described the years of Stalinist terror using thousands of details and individual cases.

That book led to Solzhenitsyn's exile from his homeland in 1974, and from his American home in Vermont, he became an icon of resistance to the communist system.

He made a hero's return to Russia in 1994, after the fall of the Soviet Union. But far from celebrating the shape of a homeland freed from communism, he railed against its heady materialism and corruption.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn received the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature for a body of work including The First Circle (1968) and Cancer Ward (1968).

Government award

In 2007, the one-time exile received the highest Russian government award for his work in the humanities - the Russian State Prize.

In announcing the prize last year, 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".

Solzhenitsyn did not attend the announcement of the state prize in Moscow's Kremlin, but his wife, Natalya, said the writer hoped his study of Russia's history would help the country in the future.

The prize, she said, "gives a certain hope, and Alexander Isayevich [Solzhenitsyn] would be glad if that hope came to life, a hope our country will learn the lesson of its self-destruction in the 20th century and not repeat it".

The State Prize's origins date back to Soviet times, but Solzhenitsyn was just the second person to receive the prize for work in the humanities. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II received the first such prize in 2006.