"One word of truth will outweigh the whole world"
When you're in a Stalin-era Soviet Gulag, merely managing to haul your ass out of bed, trudge outside into the arctic hell wastes of Siberia in temperatures around 40 degrees below zero and smash frozen, snow-covered rocks apart with a pickaxe for twelve hours a day requires the sort of badass physical and mental fortitude that most people probably couldn't generate if they were being personally pursued by a man-eating bear with a rocket launcher strapped to his back. Surviving that misery for ten long, soul-crushing years, and then going home to write a definitive work on the subject that exposes the horrors of the system to people who had been completely oblivious of it before requires the sort of freeze-proof balls that only Alexander Solzhenitsyn could have possessed.
Born in Russia in 1918, Alexander's childhood home became a collective farm after the Soviet Revolution, and he grew up learning about all the great happy fun party time that was Uncle Joe's Magical Exciting Communist Totalitarian Regime of Awesomeness. Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics at Rostov State University, took classes in philosophy, literature, and history, and basically bought into the whole "Soviets Rule, Capitalists Drool" mentality that the USSR seemed to love so much. In fact, Solzhenitsyn was so Pumped for the Proletariat that when Hitler's Fascist punk stormtroopers came kicking in the gates of Moscow with their well-polished jackboots during World War II, young Alex was so psyched about getting to kill Nazis in the face that he went out and joined an artillery regiment in the Red Army. During his tenure as a weapons spotter, sound-ranger, and general exploder of Nazi crotches across Western Russia, Poland, and East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn was promoted to the rank of Captain, and won two awards for rocking ass in battle. Things were going pretty well for Captain Solzhenitsyn — that is, until one day in 1945 when the Soviet Commissariat intercepted a letter Alexander wrote to one of his buddies talking about how Stalin was a grumpy old bearded bastard who didn't really know what the goat cheese he was doing in regards to running the war.
Now, talking smack about your bosses, political leaders, and commanding officers is pretty much standard operating procedure at any gathering of two or more people these days, but back in Soviet Russia you might as well have just founded a revolutionary organization bent on shoving Molotov cocktails up the Proletariat's tailpipe and then jumping off the roof of the Kremlin and elbow-dropping Lenin's exhumed corpse because either way you were a bourgeoisie traitor scumbag worthy only of a right hook to the chops with the Warhammer of Commie Justice. Solzhenitsyn was arrested by the NKVD, convicted of distributing propaganda, and sentenced to 8 years in pound-me-in-the-ass hard-labor camp in Siberia. If you ask me, this seems a little disproportionately harsh, but I guess that's why Stalin never fired me an email requesting my input on the matter.
During 11 years of imprisonment and exile, Solzhenitsyn served in a number of different back-breaking suck camps. He got his ass kicked by weather, brutal work, and even more brutal supervisors on a daily basis, survived a battle with undiagnosed cancer that almost killed him, and wrote a couple of poems and short stories despite the notable handicap that he didn't actually have access to ancillary stuff like paper or pens. I have no idea how he accomplished this… I can't imagine he even composed this stuff by peeing in the snow, because I'm pretty sure that negative-forty is cold enough to flash-freeze urine, so go figure.
Luckily for the citizenry of Russia, Stalin face-planted a grave in 1956. Solzhenitsyn was freed, returned home, and started writing the politically-charged One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich — a super-subversive story about how much it sucked ass to be stuck in a Gulag for like a decade. He somehow managed to get this published in the Soviet Union (no small feat in and of itself) and then started work on his epic piece of dissident literature — The Gulag Archipelago.
Based on his own experiences, as well as interviews with survivors from the Gulag system, this was the sort of work that could have gotten you arrested, beat up, and imprisoned by the KGB, but Solzhenitsyn didn't give two craps at a rolling donut. He continued work on this, as well as other dangerously-political pieces, and basically told the KGB secret agents tailing him that they could all go fornicate with a revved-up chainsaw. His home was repeatedly raided by KGB agents, he was expelled from the Soviet Union of Writers, and the government started an open campaign determined to slander his name, but none of this garbage slowed him down. When he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 he couldn't go to Sweden to accept it, he just shrugged and played it cool like the Fonz.
Eventually, the Soviets got sick of Solzhenitsyn's bullcrap and in 1974 he was arrested, deported, and stripped of his citizenship. He stopped off to pick up his Nobel before heading to the United States and continuing to work on his various projects. The Gulag Archipelago was eventually published, and now this towering work of literary greatness is required reading in all schools in Russia. Solzhenitsyn eventually returned home after the fall of the USSR, where he spent the rest of his life being a crotchety old man, complaining about the weather, music, the "kids these days," political freedom, and lack of religion, and advocating the reinstatement of the Tsars. But whatever. He died in 2008.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a crazy bastard who fought Nazis, survived the Gulags, and put together some of the greatest works of dissident literature ever produced by Russia. He didn't give a rat's junk that he was constantly under investigation by some of the world's most all-powerful secret agents, or that the projects he was working on could have resulted in death or imprisonment — he wanted to inform the world of the horrible crap that was going down in the Gulag system, and nothing was going to stand in his way. He emerged from the danger and intrigue on top, and is now regarded as one of 20th century Russia's greatest writers. That's pretty badass.
÷ ÷ ÷
Aikman, David. Great Souls.
Scammel, Michael. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Biography.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The Gulag Archipelago