Author Aleksandr Solzenitsyn seems like someone who should be immortal. I haven’t thought about him for a long time, but when he died last weekend I realized how much he impacted my life. I am a strong believer in the power of the written word, and his tales of life as a prisoner exiled to the Gulag Archipelago revealed the evils of communism in a powerful way. Living in Palos Verdes, I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. I couldn’t compete with the girls who had live-in seamstresses, and mothers (or servants) who bought them the latest shoe styles and accessories. I wasn’t athletic, didn’t write for the school paper, and couldn’t sing well enough to get a part in the school musical. I didn’t fit in anywhere in this materialistic and shallow world. But when I read The Gulag Archipelago, it revealed a world to me that I had never seen in my insulated town. There were people out there who were suffering for what they believed?! There were people who felt lucky just to be alive and to not receive any broken bones that day? There were horrible atrocities perpetrated on other human beings? The issues he brought up seemed really important, and I began to see that perhaps knowing how to put on make up perfectly or being able to lead cheers at football games was not the most important thing in the universe. Having compassion and working to make positive change in the world began to seem much more imperative. I still felt out of place in Palos Verdes, but Solzenitsyn made me think less about the kids who were handed shiny new cars, and more about the kids in Russia who had no say in their future.