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A Solzhenitsyn controversy

August 09, 2008

Re "Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008," Aug. 4

News of the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn jolted me back to a tumultuous time in my life.

As a fledgling high school English teacher in 1980, I was called on to stand before a school board in rural Missouri to defend my right to teach -- and my students' right to read -- Solzhenitsyn's acclaimed novel, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."

Calling for the book to be removed from the classroom was a local minister who happened to be the father of one of my students. He objected to the "obscene" language, and demonstrated its unsuitability by underlining every four-letter word throughout the novel. "How can you describe life in Stalinist labor camps without those words?" I asked the members of the school board in my defense of this literary masterpiece.

Ultimately, I was allowed to finish teaching the book to the other students, all seniors, in the class, and to provide a "suitable alternative" to the daughter of the minister. For her, I chose "My Antonia," by Willa Cather.

Unfortunately, the student's father won the day. At the end of the academic year, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was removed from the curriculum.

The irony of a school board in America's heartland banning the work of an author who came to this country in exile was profound. Today, it is my hope that students everywhere will discover, or rediscover, this extraordinary novel, a tribute to one individual's will to prevail.

Joyce Huyett Turner


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