Author was a Nobel Prize winner

MOSCOW — Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, has died of heart failure. He was 89.

Stepan Solzhenitsyn told the Associated Press that his father died late Sunday in Moscow, but declined further comment.

Solzhenitsyn’s unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union’s slave labor camps riveted his countrymen, whose secret history he exposed. They earned him 20 years of bitter exile but international renown.

And they inspired millions, perhaps, with the knowledge that one person’s courage and integrity could, in the end, defeat the totalitarian machinery of an empire.

Beginning with the 1962 short novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” Solzhenitsyn devoted himself to describing what he called the human “meat grinder” that had caught him along with millions of other Soviet citizens: capricious arrests, often for trifling and seemingly absurd reasons, followed by sentences to slave labor camps where cold, starvation and punishing work crushed inmates physically and spiritually.

His “Gulag Archipelago” trilogy of the 1970s shocked readers by describing the savagery of the Soviet state under the dictator Josef Stalin. It helped erase lingering sympathy for the Soviet Union among many leftist intellectuals, especially in Europe.

But his account of that secret system of prison camps was also inspiring in its description of how one person — Solzhenitsyn himself — survived, physically and spiritually, in a penal system of soul-crushing hardship and injustice.

The West offered him shelter and accolades. But Solzhenitsyn’s refusal to bend despite enormous pressure also gave him the courage to criticize Western culture for what he considered its weakness and decadence.

Following the death of Naguib Mahfouz in 2006, Solzhenitsyn became the oldest living Nobel laureate in literature. He is survived by his wife, Natalya, who acted as his spokesman; and his three sons, including Stepan; Ignat, a pianist and conductor; and Yermolai. All live in the U.S.

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