“Почти счастливый” (“Almost Happy”) is how the Russian news site lenta.ru titled a commentary about the death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The phrase “almost happy” turns up at the end of Один день Ивана Денисовича (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich):
“Прошёл день, ничем не омрачённый, почти счастливый.”
“The day had passed, undarkened by anything, almost happy.”
Reading Michael T. Kaufman’s lengthy and balanced New York Times obituary of Solzhenitsyn reminded me of episodes I’d forgotten from Solzhenitsyn’s life: the hermit-like Cavendish years, the train trip across Russia, the spousal drama. I’d forgotten his crankiness, probably because I’ve focused for years on what I admire most: Solzhenitsyn’s willingness to ignore consequences and speak out against the Soviet regime.I also admire much of his fiction, particularly Раковый корпус (Cancer Ward), my favorite, thus far, of Solzhenitsyn’s works… though Ivan Denisovich has stood on my “To Read” shelf for months, awaiting a rereading. One book is compact, the other baggy, but both take place in enclosed places and address what it means to live and be human. In death, Solzhenitsyn will rest at Donskoi Monastery in Moscow. Donskoi Monastery and its cemetery were always modest, not a destination of dozens of tour buses, like Novodevichii Monastery and its famous graveyard. I lived near Donskoi Monastery during my first year in Moscow, and sometimes went to sweep old leaves off the grave of Mikhail Kheraskov, an eighteenth-century writer I studied in grad school.
I always think of those days when I hear these lines from Aleksandr Gorodnitskii’s song “В Донском монастыре,” (“At the Donskoi Monastery”). Now when I hear them, my thoughts will broaden to remember Solzhenitsyn’s writings and imagine his grave, too, in a place I used to visit.“Листопад в монастыре. (“The fall of leaves at the monastery.)
Вот и осень, - здравствуй. (Here’s autumn – Hello.)
Спит в Донском монастыре (Sleeps at Donskoi Monastery)
Русское дворянство.” (The Russian nobility.”)