Dec. 11, 1918
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn born in Kislovodsk, Russia to Taisia and Isaaki Solzhenitsyn. Isaaki is killed in a hunting accident shortly after Taisia became pregnant.
Reads War and Peace, is amazed, starts experimenting with writing.
Solzhenitsyn’s maternal grandfather, Zakhar Shcherbak, visits daughter and grandson in Rostov, is pursued by the secret police. Lives for two more years, disappears in 1932 in secret police custody, not to be seen again.
Graduates Rostov High School #15 and enters Rostov University as a mathematics and physics student. On November 18, decides to write the history of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in the form of a novel.
Graduates Rostov University with distinction. Goes to Moscow for final exams at MIFLI, but interrupted by the breakout of World War II.
Joins the Red Army and in 1942 gets artillery training, becomes commander of a sound-ranging battery. Decorated for bravery. Becomes artillery captain in 1944. Unit fights in Poland in 1944 and into East Prussia in January 1945.
In February, Solzhenitsyn is arrested for writing comments in private letters to a friend about Joseph Stalin. This is an offense punishable under Article 58 of the Penal Code, “Counterrevolutionary activity.” Sentenced to eight years in the labor camps of the Gulag. He would name his book about the camp system The Gulag Archipelago.
Works in hard labor camp at Ekibastuz in the northeastern region of Kazakhstan. Works as a stonemason laying bricks, then in the camp foundry. The Ekibastuz camp would be the inspiration of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
After serving his prison sentence, Solzhenitsyn is sent into exile for life in the village of Kok-Terek, in the southeast part of Kazakhstan. His first day without armed guard is March 5, 1953, the same day Stalin died. Solzhenitsyn teaches math and physics in the local school and secretly writes poems, plays and sketches, as well as his first major novel, In the First Circle.
Cancer (seminoma) recurs. Doctors tell him he has three weeks to live. He goes to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to a cancer clinic, and survives. This experience becomes the basis of Cancer Ward.
Khrushchev denounces Stalin. Those serving sentences under Article 58 of the Penal Code receive amnesty. Solzhenitsyn is freed from exile and returns to the European part of Russia. He finds a job as a schoolteacher in the Vladimir region. Here he rents a room from a widow named Matryona, brought to life in his short story, Matryona’s Home.
Settles in the city of Ryazan, receives his “rehabilitation” papers. Takes a job as a school physics and astronomy teacher. Works on the novel In the First Circle. Over the next three years, continues chemotherapy treatment.
Writes One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Matryona’s Home and the screenplay The Tanks Know the Truth, scarcely hoping ever to see these works published.
Submits One Day for publication to the literary journal Novy Mir (“New World”). There follows a year-long process and personal approval by Nikita Khrushchev.
One Day is published. Soon after it appears in translation across the western world. Solzhenitsyn becomes famous in the USSR and worldwide.
Five more short stories are published. No more works by Solzhenitsyn would be published in the USSR until 1990. Khrushchev toppled in 1964 and his political “thaw” begins to be reversed. Writes the novel Cancer Ward. Writes The Gulag Archipelago at a hideout in Estonia, spending a total of seven months there.
The novels Cancer Ward and a “softened” version of the novel In the First Circle published outside the Soviet Union, in Paris, followed by translations into many languages.
Solzhenitsyn engages in a battle of words and ideas with USSR authorities and official literary organizations. Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich shelters Solzhenitsyn at his home outside Moscow. Begins to work in earnest on The Red Wheel. Expelled from the Writers’ Union (Ryazan chapter) in 1969.
Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature but unable to attend the ceremony. The battle with the authorities intensifies.
Three sons, Yermolai, Ignat and Stepan, born.
August 1914 (first part of The Red Wheel), a panoramic view of Russia on the eve of the Revolution, is published in Paris. The KGB makes an attempt to assassinate Solzhenitsyn using an unknown biological agent, later revealed to be the deadly toxin ricin.
Archive, including the manuscript of Gulag Archipelago, seized. Its holder, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, commits suicide. Solzhenitsyn hands over the microfilm of Gulag Archipelago to the west. Publication occurs in December 1973 in Paris.
Public campaign to discredit Solzhenitsyn, in response to Gulag Archipelago. On February 12, Solzhenitsyn is arrested, charged with treason, stripped of his citizenship, and expelled from the Soviet Union to Frankfurt, West Germany. Wife Natalia organizes the smuggling of Solzhenitsyn’s archive to the west over the next weeks. In March, Natalia, mother-in-law Ekaterina Svetlova, stepson Dimitri and three sons join Solzhenitsyn in Zurich, Switzerland. In December Solzhenitsyn travels to Stockholm to accept at last his Nobel Prize.
Continues to write as well as travel and give speeches and interviews in France, the UK, and Spain. Makes first trip to Vermont in April and settles in Cavendish in June. Makes return trips to Stanford and Columbia during the year. Family joins Solzhenitsyn in Cavendish in July.
On March 1, addresses Cavendish Town Meeting to explain why he settled in Cavendish and to apologize for the necessity of fencing his property. In September, makes appeal to Russians who experienced the Revolution and the world wars to write their memoirs, vowing to return them one day to a free Russia.
Receives honorary degree from Harvard University and delivers Harvard’s Commencement Address, published as A World Split Apart.
Continues and completes November 1916, March 1917 and April 1917 (the second, third and fourth parts of The Red Wheel).
The Gulag Archipelago, Nobel Lecture, In the First Circle, Cancer Ward, short stories and plays published in the USSR. Solzhenitsyn outlines his vision for Russia’s future in Rebuilding Russia. The program is widely read but is not adopted either by Gorbachev or, after the fall of the USSR, by Yeltsin.
The Prosecutor General of the USSR lifts the charge of treason against Solzhenitsyn. At a Vermont Bicentennial parade in Cavendish, Solzhenitsyn confirms he will return to Russia. In December, leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus make a deal to dissolve the USSR and form separate countries.
After thirty years of writing mostly novels, he returns to writing short stories. In Russia, a ten-acre parcel of land near Moscow is allotted by the government for Solzhenitsyn to build a house.
On February 28, Solzhenitsyn bids farewell to Cavendish at Town Meeting. In May, he leaves Cavendish and flies via Alaska to Russia, landing at Magadan, a center of the gulag, and Vladivostok, from which he begins a two-month train trip across Russia, holding dozens of small and large public meetings, recording what people say, answering questions. He arrives July 21 in Moscow.
Solzhenitsyn continues to write short stories. He also commences a brief bi-weekly television program in April. In September an unhappy Kremlin pulls it from the airwaves.
Travels through the Tver/upper Volga region (northwest of Moscow), continues to write, publishes his Soviet-period literary memoirs (The Oak and the Calf) in Russia.
Elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences in the specialty of language.
Launches a Russian literary prize, which continues to be awarded annually. Makes a trip through regions southwest of Moscow. Publishes Russia in Collapse, a work focusing on the sorry state of Russia. Refuses a state award from the government in light of the poverty and misery that has befallen the country.
Publishes his literary memoirs of life in the West (Between Two Millstones). Publishes 200 Years Together, about the difficult topic of Russian-Jewish interaction in the 18th–20th centuries.
Gives periodic interviews in the press, continues to write and publish short works. Makes edits to his works, creating definitive editions.
Solzhenitsyn’s thirty-volume collected works begins to be published.
Russian Academy of Sciences votes him a laureate of Russian State Prize.
2008, August 3
Dies in Moscow of a heart attack, age 89.