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Solzhenitsyn's 'Gulag Archipelago' Struck The Kremlin 'Like An Atom Bomb'

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, during his first months in prison in 1945
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, during his first months in prison in 1945
Today would have been Nobel Prize-laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 90th birthday. Even before the end of Nikita Khrushchev's thaw, Solzhenitsyn had become a banned writer and his works began a long period of secret, underground existence. Only a few people were involved in this secret work.

RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to one of them -- linguist Leonid Krysin, who is now deputy director of the Vinogradov Russian Language Insititute in Moscow.

RFE/RL: Please tell us something about your involvement in preserving Solzhenitsyn's works.

Leonid Krysin: We kept part of his archive at our home. Different parts at different times. Of course, back then it was impossible to even whisper to anyone about this, but somehow it was done. Things were periodically moved from one location to another -- they were carried, transported. This went on for quite a while.

RFE/RL: What do you mean "archives" exactly?

Krysin: For example, "The Gulag Archipelago" at one time existed in the form of several rolls of film. After all, we didn't have today's technology. Now we could use the Internet and store everything there. Back then, everything existed on tape or on paper, in mimeographed form. I remember that at one time I was keeping a box with a large roll of these tapes, which contained "The Gulag Archipelago" before it had been published.

RFE/RL: So you first became acquainted with "The Gulag Archipelago" through sound rather than text?

Krysin: No, I read it. I read a typescript in the summer of 1969. I still remember my state of mind while I was reading it and after I'd read it. It was as if I was physically ill, the burden of the pain was so great. Maybe contemporary readers have a different reaction, but then it was simply a devastating thing.

RFE/RL: Do you mean to say that, like many of your generation, you didn't know anything about the things that were in "The Gulag Archipelago"?

Krysin: Of course, many facts of history, the atmosphere itself, laid out in "The Gulag Archipelago" were unknown to us. Although my father, for example, had been in internal exile and my grandfather had been murdered. My father's brothers were executed, accused of being enemies of the people, and so on. So, I had a vague idea that there had been repressions, of course, but about the scale, the sadism, the sheer numbers of people who suffered -- I learned this from "The Gulag Archipelago."

It is, of course, a great work -- it struck the Soviet authorities like an atom bomb.

RFE/RL: You say the archives were moved constantly. What became of them in the end?

Krysin: I don't know. At some point I handed them off to someone else and I never asked about them afterward. If I had asked, people would have been suspicious.

RFE/RL: You were saying that at a time when he was in deep disgrace, after he had returned from the camp and had his brief period of official recognition, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was invited to the Russian Language Institute of the Academy of Sciences...

Krysin: Yes, it was in November 1967, the year and the month of the 50th anniversary of the Soviet takeover. And I decided to invite Solzhenitsyn to our institute, although he was considered an enemy by the authorities. It all happened quite openly and transparently. Our academic secretary, Lamara Kapanadze signed the invitation, since I was just a staff member, inviting Solzhenitsyn to come and read from his works.

The letter was sent by ordinary post to Ryazan, where he was living. He responded and a date was set. He arrived and read to us for about four hours. By the way, our glorious security agents missed the whole thing.

RFE/RL: You mean there were no dark suits there?

Krysin: There were only employees of the institute. Although I noticed that Solzhenitsyn kept looking back at me -- I was sitting behind him -- as he read, obviously thinking that I might be an informer. The event was openly recorded. Of course, we didn't have the equipment there is today.

Afterward, I kept the recording at my house -- I made a special niche in a bookshelf and kept a jar of water in there to keep the tape from drying out. There was always a danger the tape would just disintegrate over the course of 40 years. But recently we were able to transfer the entire recording into digital format.

Our phonetics department now keeps this recording of Solzhenitsyn reading from "Cancer Ward" and "In The First Circle," and telling some things about his life, how he was persecuted. The whole thing lasted a pretty long time.

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