n the evening of February 12, 1974, a notorious criminal—considered to be one of the most dangerous men in the world—was taken from an infamous prison, flown out of his country, and unceremoniously dumped in Cologne, Germany. His jailers would have preferred to kill him, but, frightened of the consequences, they instead sentenced him to permanent exile. Incredibly, this man—who had terrified the rulers of a vast empire—was not the leader of a rival country, a terrorist group, or a political party. His only weapons were a strong-willed spouse, loyal friends, an exceptional memory, and a literary talent matched by few of his contemporaries.
The ex-convict was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He had spent eight years in the Soviet Gulag after writing an offhand jibe about Stalin in a letter to a friend. There, as one of millions of innocent people sent to the camps, he witnessed firsthand the ineptitude, brutality, and injustice of the Communist system. He vowed retribution. Solzhenitsyn had committed to memory the atrocities of the Soviets, and he set about chronicling them after his release.
He slipped through a crack in the Soviet monolith when Nikita Khrushchev allowed the novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, set in a Soviet labor camp, to be published in 1962 as a way of discrediting Stalin’s followers. The book became a worldwide sensation and so raised Solzhenitsyn’s international profile that he was able to publish The First Circle and Cancer Ward in the West in 1968 without serious reprisals. In 1970 he won the Nobel Prize for literature.