In July 1980, I was sent a short article from the Christian Science Monitor—a venomous left-liberal newspaper among the most influential in the States. Published in Boston, just around the corner, it once requested an in-depth interview: I declined. Now, one Harlow Robinson writes, under the headline “Solzhenitsyn: Shrill”: “Solzhenitsyn said in a recent interview that he would go back ‘at once’ to Russia, preferably as a national political leader [my italics — A.S.].” What kind of scoundrels are they? They can bark at me however they like — go on, damn you. But “Solzhenitsyn said” — the cheek of it! I didn’t say it, and have never thought it. So, what do I do? Get sidetracked, write a rebuttal: “Your highly intellectual newspaper is fully entitled not to know Russian history and not to understand the conditions of Soviet life [this refers to the rest of their article], but it has no right to print deliberate falsehoods. . . . I ask you to publish my letter, and I await a public apology from the author.”
And if they don’t publish? I’m not going to take them to court — that’s not for a normal person to do, much less a writer. And so it will stick.
Three weeks went by — not a word. I couldn’t rest, and wrote again: “Must I conclude that you are refusing to print my rebuttal, and I am free to write about this falsification openly in other publications?” An answer from the editor-in-chief! — ah, unfortunately, I was on vacation when your first letter arrived. . . . We have tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr. Robinson for the desired comments. (They themselves are unable to check that I said no such thing, nor anything like it, in my New York Times interview . . .) Eventually, after another month, my letter was published in the “Readers Write” section, as was Robinson’s response: “‘preferably as a national political leader’ was [Robinson’s] own interpretive addition,” and he was sorry.
And the whole episode wasn’t worth a fig — and I’d had to waste time and focus on it. But are you really going to keep up with the vastness of all the world’s media? issuing rebuttals? —The hydra heads of newspaper lies.
But it’s all a matter of scale. This petty nonsense ended on September 8; on the afternoon of the 11th, I was sitting as usual at my little desk beneath the birches, near the pond, on our plot fenced off by wire netting about two meters high. No one from the outside ever came there, and my family were at least 100 meters away, up the hill. But here — only chipmunks dashing around. I wrote in this solitude summer after summer, my soul unbound. A steady breeze is blowing, concealing any rustling. My eyes are on the paper. I can hear nothing and see nothing in my peripheral vision. Only when I happen to look up do I see a magnificent powerful copper-colored creature passing by on a raised path a meter and a half from my head. Could a dog be that size? whose dog? and so noiseless? I turn my head as it goes by, and behind the trunks of the birch trees I see the first wolf, which has already gone past. Now it has turned to look at the one behind and is baring its teeth in its long snout, as if asking why it’s lagging behind. Now I can see the second one in full. It’s gone by to catch up with the first. They’re gone.