SANYA: My Life with Alexander Solzhenitsyn by Natalya Reshetovskaya

SANYA: My Life with Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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In a flat, straightforward tone, Solzhenitsyn's first wife of 25 years underlines the streak of fantasy and egoism behind the author's uncanny characterizations. She met him in his puppyish student days; during his service as an artillery officer, she says his mind was chiefly on becoming a great writer. Upon arrest he spun stories for the secret police investigators which implicated his best friends and tarred chance wartime acquaintances. In one of her infrequent bursts of frank pique, Natalya claims he did this to get a shorter sentence and later excused himself in The Gulag Archipelago with the comment, ""Don't cast stones at those who turn out to be weak under interrogation."" She terms that book pretentious and self-righteous. For the rest, she is self-sacrificing, even slavish, toward Sanya, most often referred to as ""my husband."" She not only undergoes the difficulties of secret visits to a prisoner, but also his cruel grant to her of ""complete personal freedom"" and the ""feeling of comfort, well-being and calm"" in his letters--which tormented her with a sense that his fantasies were cutting off the outside world and herself in particular. When amnestied, Solzhenitsyn informs her that they should separate since he has only a year to live; she insists, ""I need you in every way, alive or dying,"" and becomes his typist, secretary, and buffer against hangers-on. Her work as a doctor of chemistry flags; in 1964 Sanya has an affair and asks Natalya, ""Permit me to allow her to help me create another novel."" Finally, he demands that his wife keep a diary during their separation so he can use it for forthcoming books. The couple broke for good in 1970; Reshetovskaya teaches advanced chemistry in Moscow and will tour the United States. The book--which was published with Soviet approval--amounts to a subtle debunking of Solzhenitsyn's saintly persona, but it is also, unwittingly, a convincing study of feminine immaturity.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1975
Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill