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Friday, 5 February, 1999, 19:42 GMT
Solzhenitsyn attacked over literary feud
solzhenitsyn
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: 25-year feud with translator Lord Bethell
Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitzyn has been accused of insulting the memory of the man who smuggled his book Cancer Ward to the West.

Cancer Ward was published in English 30 years ago after Slovak journalist Pavel Licko risked his life to obtain the manuscript from Solzhenitsyn, who had been confined by Soviet authorities in the city of Ryazan.

Licko passed the manuscript to Bethell - who co-translated it and published it through London house Bodley Head.

But in his autobiography In The Grain Fell Between Two Millstones - published in Russia last November - Solzhenitsyn accused Bethell of getting him into trouble with the KGB by publishing the book without his permission. He also branded Licko, who died in 1988, a communist stooge.

Now Bethell has hit back. Writing in Moscow weekly Itogi - Issues - he defended Licko's reputation and branded Solzhenitsyn "a tough and ruthless man, who does not react with any gentle gratitude to those who try and help him".

'Doesn't like criticism'

lord bethell
Lord Bethell: Hit back in a Moscow weekly
Bethell, a former Conservative MEP, said: "Solzhenitsyn doesn't like criticism, and I am not the only one who has felt the lash of his tongue. I think he feels that his life and his work are his own property and nothing should appear about him without his say so.

"I take exception to what he has said, not just for myself, but particularly because of his attack on Pavel Licko, who he virtually calls a Soviet agent.

"Licko certainly acted in good faith in getting an audience for Cancer Ward. He went to jail for his pains, his health was ruined in a Communist jail and he died as a result. His widow is very upset about the attack on him."

Bethell was convinced at the time Licko had the authority to permit the book's publication on Solzhenitsyn's behalf. After several failed attempts to get in touch with the author, he teamed up with Russian émigré Alexander Dolberg.

Soviet authors were not covered by copyright laws at the time, and by getting a reputable version of Cancer Ward into print, as well as setting up a bank account for royalties, Bethell felt "we were giving him a square deal" by preventing pirate copies from being published.

Received 'nastiest letter'

But the author was deported from the USSR in 1974 - four years after he won the Nobel prize for literature. He sent Bethell received "the rudest and nastiest letter I ever received in my life".

Solzhenitsyn denied giving authority for Cancer Ward's publication, and threatened legal action over what he called a "slovenly and inaccurate translation".

The issue never went to court - but 25 years on, this is the literary feud's first public airing.

Solzhenitsyn insists he only gave Licko the book's first chapter for translation into Slovak and he specifically told him to tear up any contract with Bodley Head.

Bethell said he was "surprised" Solzhenitsyn, now 80, had decided to resurrect the row.

"He didn't get into any trouble with the KGB as a result of the publication. The contract with Bodley Head was confirmed by his representatives a few years later, and he came out of the Soviet Union to find several hundred thousand dollars waiting for him.

"It is just a pity that he has given offence to the memory of Pavel Licko, who he doesn't even appear to know has died."

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