In the spring of 1996, when I was 14, I was in central California, reading about the Soviet prison system, the lives of the zeks imprisoned there, and the inhumanity of ideology.
There was something unnatural about it, but I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's three-part, 300,000-word work of "literary investigation" into the Soviet prisons, "The Gulag Archipelago." I had the fat paperbacks, they were 600-something pages each, printed in tiny print and crammed into binding that barely opened. I know I found them misshelved in the literature section of a used bookstore, but I don't know why I picked them up, bought them, brought them home and read them. I had never heard of Solzhenitsyn, this Russian with a scraggly beard and a bad haircut. No one told me to read him. I didn't know how to say his name, and probably still don't.
There was something about him, though, something about the weight of the pain in his voice that spoke to me.
Read the full column: A piece of his own heart