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The Independent (UK)
June 3, 2003
Natalya Reshetovskaya
First wife of Solzhenitsyn and chronicler of their life together
By Dan Brennan

Natalya Reshetovskaya, chemist and writer: born Rostov-on-Don, Russia 1918; married first 1940 Alexander Solzhenitsyn (marriage dissolved 1951), second Vsevolod Somov (marriage dissolved), third 1957 Alexander Solzhenitsyn (marriage dissolved 1973), fourth Konstantin Semyonov; died Moscow 28 May 2003.

Natalya Reshetovskaya was the first wife of the dissident Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A chemist by profession, she devoted much of her life to chronicling her time with Solzhenitsyn in five volumes of memoirs; a sixth - APN-Ya-Solzhenitsyn (I am Solzhenitsyn) - is due to be published shortly. She remained, throughout her life, a controversial figure - viewed by her supporters as the victim of an ill-fated love, a long-suffering and devoted wife who made huge sacrifices for the sake of her husband; her many detractors, meanwhile, accuse her of wilful distortion and suspect her of acting as a KGB informer and of collaboration against Solzhenitsyn.

Reshetovskaya's relationship with Solzhenitsyn was often torrid. They were twice married and twice divorced, and in the week that Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Literature Prize in 1970, Reshetovskaya is said to have attempted suicide.

They married for the first time in 1940, having met four years earlier while students at Rostov University. As well as being a promising young scientist, Reshetovskaya was also a talented pianist, and in their first encounter seduced Solzhenitsyn with a rendition of Chopin piano tudes.

A year after their marriage, Solzhenitsyn was sent to fight at the front, setting the tone for a relationship dogged by turmoil, conflict and, on Reshetovskaya's part, frustration. In their first 16 years of marriage, they only spent one year together.

From the very start, Solzhenitsyn viewed her maternal instincts as selfish, fearing they would interfere with his writing. "I saw how egotistical your love still was," he wrote in 1945 in a letter which is published in one volume of her memoirs, Sanya (1975, her affectionate name for her husband). "You imagine our future as an uninterrupted life together, with accumulating furniture, with a cosy apartment, with regular visits from guests, evenings at the theatre."

In 1945 Solzhenitsyn was arrested for anti-Soviet activities and sentenced to eight years, first in Moscow's notorious Lubyanka prison and then in exile in the labour camps of Kazakhstan. Reshetovskaya would go every day to the Neskuchny Gardens in Moscow, adjoining the prison, in the hope of seeing her husband. She was allowed to write to him once a month, but could only receive letters from him twice a year. It was during this period that Reshetovskaya discovered that she had cancer of the uterus. Although the tumour was successfully removed, she was left unable to have children.

In 1952 she was sent from Moscow to Ryazan, where she was to work for the next 30 years as head of chemistry at the city's agricultural institute. It was there that she met Vsevolod Somov, and became his lover. After some deliberation, she filed for divorce, with Solzhenitsyn's blessing.

In 1956, just as she was about to marry Somov, Solzhenitsyn, having himself endured cancer, returned from the gulag. He reportedly gave her a poem which read: "At midnight, hiding my lips in a glass,/I whisper incomprehensibly to others/'My love, we have waited a long time!' " Revealing the news of her impending marriage, she told him: "I was created to love you alone, but fate decreed otherwise."

Later, she was to say that she had been convinced to marry Somov - a divorcee with two sons - by the desire to become a mother and the knowledge that she would never have children of her own. Soon after, she divorced Somov and remarried Solzhenitsyn. However, things quickly unravelled. Solzhenitsyn began to take lovers and eventually met a young mathematician, Natalya Svetlova, who was to become his second wife.

In an episode reminiscent of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, a desperate Reshetovskaya made her way to a railway station in Moscow, planning to throw herself in front of a train. Leaving a message in blood for her husband, she drew back only at the last minute.

Her memoirs, often deeply critical of Solzhenitysn, have been the subject of much debate and controversy, not least because the later volumes were edited by a suspected KGB agent, Konstantin Semyonov, who went on to become her third husband.

The relationship between Reshetovskaya and Solzhenitsyn reached its most tense in 1974 at the time of the publication of Solzhenitsyn's magnum opus, Gulag Archipelago, when the Soviet authorities recruited Reshetovskaya to try and persuade the writer, then already in US exile, not to publish. Her apologists have interpreted this as a vain attempt to retain contact with the man she loved, and that she was unwittingly used by the authorities, but for critics it was simply proof of her KGB credentials.

Reshetovskaya spent her latter years back in Moscow. In an interview several years before her death she claimed that she had never stopped loving Solzhenitsyn. Visitors to her tiny apartment described it as being crammed with pictures and reminders of the writer. Although it was just a stone's throw from Solzhenitsyn's own home in the capital, the couple had long since stopped communicating. However he continued to support her financially, and is known to have contributed to the costs of her funeral.

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