Al’s Revenge

Al in prison
Al in prison

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Al was sentenced to prison after what he did to Uncle Joe. Everybody loved Uncle Joe. It served Al right. Now he would have a cozy stay in a country club atmosphere for the next eight years. Lucky Al. Better not complain, Al.

His first cell was no larger than a broom closet. It was impossible to sit or lie down. And he was ordered to stay awake. If he was caught with his eyes closed, he’d be dragged out of his cell and chewed on by guard dogs. He was beaten and interrogated, and finally sentenced to hard labor.

He found himself imprisoned with other people who had also done bad things to Uncle Joe. Quite a few of these inmates loved Uncle Joe, and they were truly repentant. Nonetheless, they were forced to work very hard to win remission for their sins. And they were fed very little. Many died.

Some of them wrote letters to Uncle Joe before they died. They wanted him to be aware of just how unbelievably harsh these prison conditions were. Surely if he knew just how bad it was, he’d reform the prisons immediately. Uncle Joe was a very affable, nice guy, and a hero to all the common people. Certainly he would understand and do something.

Al survived. He was released from the country club after eight years, in 1953. But he didn’t like Uncle Joe anymore. He began writing a very long book. He researched thoroughly, and scrivened in secret. Uncle Joe was now dead, but many still loved him. He had to be very careful. He once wrote, “during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known.”

He wrote other works also which, after 1960, his government was willing to allow in print. He gained world-wide fame, and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. But this book about his prison experience had to remain a secret. His government already hated him for his success and that infernal Nobel Prize. In 1971 they even poisoned him with ricin. It made him very sick, but he survived.

Twenty years had passed since his release from prison and he still wasn’t sure when to exact his revenge. But the police were on to him. They tortured one of his typists until she revealed where a copy of the manuscript was hidden. Then she hanged herself. Al knew he had to act quickly before more co-conspirators were harmed. Several friends managed to smuggle other copies of the manuscript across the border. He gave the go-ahead signal.

In December 1973, it was published in France. It cost him his country. Six weeks later his government expelled him, and he had to live in exile for the next two decades. He returned to his home only after his government finally collapsed, unable to sustain itself under the weight of world criticism and internal dissension.

Al is one of my favorite literary figures, though I’ve only read his magnum opus. His famous book he kept secret for so long is The Gulag Archipelago. It documents Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s experiences, as well as the experiences of hundreds of other inmates in the Soviet gulag of prisons under Joseph Stalin. They had been arrested for making mildly critical comments about their country’s beloved “Uncle Joe”.

The Gulag Archipelago graphically exposed the dark secrets of the Soviet Union’s treatment of political prisoners. Communism was portrayed as subsisting on forced labor, and lost its luster to western ideologues. The Soviets were staggered. They stumbled about for the next eighteen years until finally their government crumbled.

It’s a long read. I recommend the abridged version. Which is still a long read.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, at the age of 89. That he survived so long is testament to the power of luck, persistence, and very careful planning. And perhaps also to the restorative power of revenge. He did what many of us dream of doing. He exposed the corruption and horror of unchecked authority. And he served his revenge on a plate twenty years cold. A revenge as chilly, yet invigorating, as the snowy winters of Siberia.

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7 thoughts on “Al’s Revenge

  1. I read that years ago — the abridged version. I’m really not a fan of Russian writers, but this book speaks of what humans can do to each other. Given the craziness of the world, it’s good to be reminded.

    On a funny note, I heard him speak once. It was a Harvard Commencement address, 1977 or 78, I can’t recall. He spoke immediately after the Harvard folks list off the huge sums of $$$$ each class had donated to Harvard that year. Solzhenitsyn spoke about crass capitalism. I was the only one in the audience who found it amusing.

    Liked by 2 people

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