MOSCOW — Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the reclusive icon of the Russian intelligentsia and chronicler of communist repression, died of heart failure on Sunday (Aug. 3, 2008). He was 89.
The soulful writer and spiritual father of Russia's nationalist patriotic movement lived to be reunited with his beloved homeland after two decades of exile, returning from his Vermont refuge to a dramatically changed Russia in May 1994.
But he deemed it a moral ruin after his triumphant return, which included a 56-day train trip to get reacquainted with the country that had denounced him as a traitor, stripped him of citizenship and expelled him in 1974.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn's labor, loves and politics mirrored the tumultuous history of his country.
"It is history's sorrow, the grief of our era, that I carry about me like an anathema," Mr. Solzhenitsyn (sohl-zheh-NEETS'-ihn) once wrote of his life.
That he persevered through nearly nine decades was a wonder to many people. He had weathered cancer, prison, labor camps and condemnation.
Hailed as Russia's greatest living writer, the author of more than two dozen books in addition to commentaries, poems, plays and film scripts won back his citizenship and the respect of his fellow Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Although his books were best-sellers in the West, only One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published first in his homeland.
Other major works include a memoir, The Oak and the Calf, and August 1914, the first volume of a monumental history of 20th-century Russia.
With his masterwork, The Gulag Archipelago, he gave a name to the brutal network of labor camps that spread across the Soviet Union during dictator Josef Stalin's drive to industrialize his country. Tens of millions of men, women and children died.
During the 1990s he faded from public view, but his vision of Russia gained renewed prominence under Vladimir Putin's presidency. He spent the last decade of his life in seclusion at his estate outside Moscow, editing his life's work for a 30-volume anthology.