When exiled Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn came to the United States back in 1976 to search for a home away from home, the Nobel laureate was lucky enough to find a place almost too good to be true. In fact, he found the kind of community that millions of Americans dream of, too.
Solzhenitsyn said this week he chose tiny Cavendish, Vt., because he "dislike(s) very much large cities with their empty and fussy lives." He said he prefers "the simple way of life and the population here, the simplicity and the human relationships."
Considering the hermetic existence Solzhenitsyn lived in rural Vermont, his praise of the "human relationships" he found there may sound strange to some. But Solzhenitsyn's New England neighbors long ago established that there need be no contradiction between personal privacy and a true sense of community. The people of Cavendish had little direct contact with their famous neighbor, but they knew him well enough to respect his desire for the solitude he considers crucial to his creative work.
In fact, about the only evidence that Solzhenitsyn was one of the town's 1,323 residents could be found on the sign at the Cavendish General Store, which read, "No restrooms. No bare feet. No directions to the Solzhenitsyn home."
Now that Solzhenitsyn has won his long battle of attrition with Soviet communism, he and his wife are returning to their Russian homeland. Their two college-aged sons, who have spent most of their lives in this country, will continue to call Cavendish home.
Even Solzhenitsyn, whose attachment to Mother Russia is almost mystical, found it difficult to give up his adopted community. Before leaving Cavendish, he met with a few hundred of his neighbors at the local elementary school and formally thanked them for their 18 years of uncommon hospitality.
The author of The Gulag Archipelago, who unflinchingly confronted the worst that Soviet communism could dish out, was lucky enough to discover the best that American democracy can offer. His experience should be inspirational to those native-born Americans still searching for their own Cavendish.