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Solzhenitsyn was born into a family of Cossack intellectuals and
brought up primarily by his mother (his father was killed in an
accident before his birth). He attended the University of Rostov-na-Donu,
graduating in mathematics, and took correspondence courses in literature
at Moscow State University. He fought in World War II, achieving
the rank of captain of artillery; in 1945, however, he was arrested
for writing a letter in which he criticized Joseph Stalin and spent
eight years in prisons and labour camps, after which he spent three
more years in enforced exile. Rehabilitated in 1956, he was allowed
to settle in Ryazan, in central Russia, where he became a mathematics
teacher and began to write.
Encouraged by the loosening of government restraints on cultural
life that was a hallmark of the de-Stalinizing policies of the early
1960s, Solzhenitsyn submitted his short novel Odin den iz zhizni
Ivana Denisovicha (1962; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich)
to the leading Soviet literary periodical Novy Mir ("New World").
The novel quickly appeared in that journal's pages and met with
immediate popularity, Solzhenitsyn becoming an instant celebrity.
Ivan Denisovich, based on Solzhenitsyn's own experiences, described
a typical day in the life of an inmate of a forced-labour camp during
the Stalin era. The impression made on the public by the book's
simple, direct language and by the obvious authority with which
it treated the daily struggles and material hardships of camp life
was magnified by its being one of the first Soviet literary works
of the post-Stalin era to directly describe such a life. The book
produced a political sensation both abroad and in the Soviet Union,
where it inspired a number of other writers to produce accounts
of their imprisonment under Stalin's regime. More...