Thanks for starting this, dirac. Everyone is writing about the man and his writings of course, but Anne Applebaum's Washington Post column "Stronger Than the Gulag" opens with a moving glimpse of history as it was lived by his Russian readers:
Although more than three decades have passed since the winter of 1974, when unbound, hand-typed samizdat versions of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" began circulating in what used to be the Soviet Union, the emotions they stirred remain today. Usually, readers were given only 24 hours to finish the lengthy manuscript -- the first-ever historical account of the Soviet concentration camp system -- before it had to be passed on to the next person. That meant spending an entire day and night absorbed in Solzhenitsyn's sometimes eloquent, sometimes angry prose, not an experience anyone was likely to forget.
People in that first generation of readers remember who gave them the book, who else knew about it, to whom they passed it. They remember the stories that affected them most -- tales of small children in the camps, or of informers, or of camp guards. They remember what the book felt like -- the blurry, mimeographed text; the dog-eared paper; the dim glow of the lamp switched on late at night -- and with whom they discussed it.
I've read "First Circle" and (in high school) "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," and a friend gave me a copy of the Harvard commencement address when it was first published. But what I remember best of Solzhenitsyn is that most challenging and most quoted Sozhenitsyn thought that came to him while he was in the Gulag, that "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.'