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Solzhenitsyn and piercing pens

The literary dissident rightly observed the power of the pen to 'defeat lies.'

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The literary dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote that ordinary individuals have a responsibility to "not participate" in lies, but it is "within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!" His works, and those of other seminal writers, testify to that truth.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who died late on Sunday, spent years in Joseph Stalin's chilling slave labor camps. But by writing about these secret camps in his fiction and nonfiction, he helped to liberate his country from the lie of despotism.

His literary labors did not have a direct cause and effect in the downfall of the Soviet Union. But his most famous works, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (fiction) and the "Gulag Archipelago" trilogy (nonfiction), arguably did more than any other writings to make the slow boil of Soviet-bloc discontent – and nonconsent – boil over and eventually force out communist rule by 1991.

Persistent and courageous, this Nobel Prize winner in literature paid for his truth-telling with imprisonment and exile. After returning to Russia in 1994, he complained that most Russians hadn't read his books. But enough people had – both inside and outside his motherland – to make a difference. His books have sold nearly 30 million copies.

As he knew, the power of the pen to move and change thought lies in its message. The truth of the written word can work in human consciousness to help it climb further. From purely religious works such as the Bible, or the writings of the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, to novels such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the idea that people have rights based on their innate freedom and equality can move mountains.


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