Books as invitations to their authors’ lives


So Victor and I just finished reading a wonderful book by Andrea Pitzer, entitled “The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov,” which actually traced the lives of Nabokov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, two Russian writers and emigrants whose names and books became famous all over the world.

Since both writers lived during the time when Russia was a deeply controlling, communist state, they both became the “accidental” observers of the history/society of that period, and grappled with it, in very different ways, in their books. Solzhenitsyn chose a more direct description of the conditions of the Russian state, while Nabokov chose a more metaphoric route. Both approaches have their own merits, but this tangent would require its own blog entry, so for now, I’ll leave it at that and get to the point. 🙂

What really struck me was how dedicated they both were to their art and craft, regardless of the circumstances around them. Solzhenitsyn was sent to a labor camp, had to contend with Russian censorship and party officials, and smuggle his manuscripts out of the country in order to tell his and others’ stories of the gulags. Nabokov kept the themes of government oppression, illegal imprisonment, and the manipulation of someone’s life by an authoritarian regime alive. And this despite the fact that he lived abroad and had to eventually switch into English to be able to publish and sell his books. Not that the English audience did not care, but Nabokov’s themes were certainly not the day-to-day concerns they had to grapple with.

The writers’ personal struggles are not usually exposed along with the novels/non-fiction they write. However, knowing the socio-historical and cultural context in which the books have been created makes me appreciate them and their authors even more. The books then become not the end-product of the authors’ labor, but an invitation to explore in detail their creators’ lives.




Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
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13 thoughts on “Books as invitations to their authors’ lives

  1. It’s amazing how people in the past used to fight so much for what they believed in, for their calling. Nowadays we resume ourselves to being a cog in the machine, and imagine there’s just no other way around it. Well, there is, and we should learn from these amazing writers just how important perseverance is. Thank you for sharing! I’ll have to get that book myself.

    • Hi Laura, I totally agree– we are not just a cog in the machine. Unfortunately, that’s what many of us were taught, just to fit in, don’t complain… Thankfully, through experience or exposure, we can change our way of thinking, and books are our great teachers! 🙂

  2. I’ve enjoyed both these authors. I first read Solzhenitsyn one summer in college when I was traveling in Europe. I took the train from Switzerland to Italy, and I don’t think I looked out the window once! I was so engrossed in “First Circle” (and I think I still have the very worn copy from that trip). I never studied all that much history, but through literature I’ve gained a deeper understanding of different eras and locales. Your review makes me want to return and reread these authors! (or read something new – I’ve hardly ready all their works). Thank you.

  3. Very interesting observation. I haven’t ready any Russian authors in a number of years. That seems to have been relegated to my teens and 20s years. Very well written and engaging too!

    Julieanne Case
    Always from the heart!

    Reconnecting you to your Original Blueprint, Your Essence, Your Joy| Healing you from the Inside Out |Reconnective Healing | The Reconnection| Reconnective Art |

    • Thank you, Julieanne, for your comment. I too haven’t read any Russian authors in a while, and then hubby and I began reading about Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Nicholas & Alexandra Romanov, and so this spiked our interest. I think we go though phases. Who knows which country’s authors we’ll go to next. 🙂

  4. Dear Karo, it’s funny because writing has been coming up for me a lot today! On the first instance when we get ideas and inspiration but the next stage is sharing that with other people so that lessons can be learnt throughout the world 🙂

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