Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Interview with the son of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from Shelf Unbound

The following is an interview with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from Shelf Unbound about the soon to be released APRICOT JAM and other stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  With Russia being featured country in BEA's 2012 Global Market Forum program - I thought it would be most appropriate to bring some attention to landmark Russian literature - both old and new.

october/30 november 2011 unbound 31

Counterpoint Press  translations: Solzhenitsyn

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In his novels such as The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recounted and renounced Soviet oppression, earning him imprisonment, exile, a Nobel Prize, and an acknowledged role in the defeat of communism. Some of his final published works are available in English for the first time in the collection Apricot Jam and Other Stories; on the occasion of the publication of ApricotvJam we are quite honored to present this interview with the author’s son Ignat Solzhenitsyn, well known in his own right as the principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.
Shelf Unbound: In the recent The Solzhenitsyn Reader, editors Edward E. Erickson Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney write, “Today most informed observers appreciate the central role that Solzhenitsyn played in the defeat of communism. More than any other figure in the twentieth century, he exposed the ideological ‘lie’ at the heart of Communist totalitarianism.” How do you describe your father’s legacy and relevance today?
Ignat Solzhenitsyn: My father’s legacy lies first and foremost in his extraordinary contribution to Russian literature at a time when many doubted its very viability. His novels and stories have left an indelible impact on the world. As for the role that his writings and his personal courage played in bringing down the Soviet dragon, he is routinely listed alongside John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan amongst the prime movers of that historic victory.
Shelf: Published in 1973, The Gulag Archipelago was banned in Russia until 1989. Two years ago Russia’s education ministry made the book required reading in Russian high schools. What does this turn of affairs indicate for the state of Russian culture today, and what, if anything, does it mean to you personally?
Solzhenitsyn: That The Gulag Archipelago has become required reading in Russian high schools is not only a testament to its enduring relevance and power, but also one of the most positive and hopeful signs that today’s Russia is beginning, at long last, to face her frightful past. It is very, very good news.
Shelf: The works in Apricot Jam and Other Stories have until now not been available in English. Tell us about the title story and about what meanings your father was intent on conveying at this time of his life.
Solzhenitsyn: The title story is an eloquent indictment of the hypocrisy and callousness of the Soviet ruling class—not only its apparatchiks and henchmen, but its lackeys in the cultural sphere. Here is a premier Soviet writer (widely recognized as Aleksei Tolstoy) turning a willfully blind eye to the very social injustices that his Communist ideology was supposedly trying to correct. Ego returns to the heroic, though bitter, theme of the Tambov peasant uprising in 1920-21, and its brutal suppression. Adlig Schvenkitten is a gripping autobiographical tale of twenty-four harrowing hours on the Prussian Front in January 1945. The stories are amazingly diverse in setting, plot, and style. If there is a common theme, it might be the pervasive effect of time in the shaping of individual character.
Shelf: What personal characteristics do you most remember about your father?
Solzhenitsyn: Well, I most remember him as a loving, supportive father. But, speaking more objectively, he had a seriousness of purpose in his everyday life and work that was deeply inspiring. He had a great respect for knowledge, for scientific achievement, for language, but also a healthy skepticism of human nature.
Shelf: Your father died in 2008. At the end of his life, had he written everything that he wanted to, or was there still more that he wanted to say?
Solzhenitsyn: One of the great blessings of his life is that, after decades of racing against the clock to complete the enormous tasks he had set for himself (most especially The Red Wheel), he not only succeeded in completing them, but had ample time left over to tie up loose ends and to delve into unexpected, unplanned projects, such as these binary tales.

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