My husband, John, is the real chef in our family. He likes to subscribe to cooking magazines because – if he finds even one recipe he uses regularly every few issues – it is money well-spent. I have found the same principle applicable in my life, with reading. I have read thousands of books and they have shaped and molded me in ways I can’t possible be aware of, at a profound level. But, often, tangibly, I will be left with just a couple of thoughts from even a lengthy volume. Still, those thoughts are transformative and worth the effort expended to glean them.
As a teenager, I became fascinated by the great Russian authors in general, and the writing of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in particular. Have you heard of him? He wrote many books on his experiences in the Soviet Union under Stalin. He was an ‘insider’ literally. He spent several years in the extensive prison camp system of that era, as a political prisoner.
As with most Russian authors, his books are lengthy, indeed, and I plowed through all of them, including his three-volume series on the prison camps, called The Gulag Archipelago. What do I remember now, forty years later? I have retained a general sense of the society he portrayed, certainly. But in terms of very specific content? Almost none. But, the gem I have carried with me all these years has been life-changing and enriching. Let me explain.
As you, my new readers, have probably already seen, I am fascinated by lies and the concept of lying. As a child, I was not a Christian, but was very aware of lies and deception being, in a sense, the essence of everyday life. (It is one of the factors that drove me to distraction. How do you handle that from a non-Christian perspective?)
So let me tell you what I remember from ‘Gulag’. Solzhenitsyn brilliantly portrayed the juxtaposition of ‘official reality’ and ‘real reality’ in the Soviet Union. While millions of citizens were starving or imprisoned, people were deluged with official ‘facts’ about the successful growth of the economy and the wonderful new freedoms bequeathed to them by their government. And you were forced to believe ‘official reality’. Woe to you if you voiced otherwise or even seemed to have fleeting thoughts that diverged from mandated ‘truth’.
Solzhenitsyn was terribly treated in the years of his imprisonment, of course – interrogated, beaten. But he could handle that. And so did many others. The most difficult thing to deal with – the spirit-breaker – was the lying, the constant lying and deception. Isn’t that interesting? The incursions against the soul were so much worse than those against the body.
I found it a compelling thought as a non-Christian. Indeed, it was something God used unto my conversion. Now, years later, it seems utterly straightforward. What else would we expect as Christians?