Long before I ever left the US, I was a fan of the writing of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, who died today aged 89. I had an odd (by being unexplainable in origin for a norsk girl from Minnesota) fascination with Russian literature, and his works touched me in addition to the likes of Bulgakov, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, to the point that I took Russian language with a dream of “reading in the original” in my University days and I barely managed to steer my course back to the technical side. I have a friend spending time in St. Petersburg in the next year and I am planning to go and test my ability to work out the unpronounceable word for hello:
To greet a person with whom you’re on formal vy (vih) terms, use the longer word, Zdravstvujtye (zdrah-stvooy-tee; hello). Note that the first letter “v” in Zdravstvujtye is silent. Otherwise it would be hard even for Russians to pronounce!
I can assure you that this is still not pronounceable and we settled for the far simpler “Good day” or Dobrey dyen, “Добрый день” which worked much better than trying to say hello, when I was studying Russian language quite seriously.
There is an amazing connection here, too, to one of my modern day idols, my contemporary (in terms of being my age, but far more talented than I!) the violinist and conductor/teacher Maxim Vengerov. Anyone who complains that his talent is “wasted” in teaching has not seen him give a master class to young pupils. But the connection to Solzhenitsyn comes from Vengerov through to the cellist Rostropovich, who died last year and was both a mentor to Vengerov and a friend to Solzhenitsyn, in fact suffering a great deal because of this latter connection.
I am getting off the subject, however, The great literature of Solzhenitsyn led to his exile from Russia, and his eventual return. Word on the street is that he never really adapted to life in Vermont, and was quite relieved to be back “home” in Russia once he was allowed back.
As an expat, one can only imagine being forced away from one’s home, as opposed to leaving voluntarily as I did. I was a Solzhenitsyn fan long before the consequences of his writings/actions ever sank in to my soul in terms of leaving one’s country. In some way, I feel as though everyone should leave their home at some point, should go out and experience the uncomfortable world, because of the way it changes you and makes you grow. I guess that was my motivation in leaving the US, I was certainly not being persecuted nor was I truly limited in my career or views. But getting away certainly did clarify some of these things. I don’t know when or if I will return to the US but I know that if I do return, it will not be because of the political strife that Solzhenitsyn faced in his lifetime.
So tonight, please raise your drink, preferably vodka, to Solzhenitsyn, the ultimate expat, and the magnificent things he wrote that both won him the Nobel prize and caused him his exile.