Category Archives: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Let Your Memory Be Your Travel Bag

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Apocryphal?

solgulag04Dear Quote Investigator: On a website dedicated to travel I saw a quotation credited to the famous Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.

Is this attribution accurate? A travel tip from Solzhenitsyn seems incongruous.

Quote Investigator: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did write this in his most famous work “The Gulag Archipelago”. He was discussing his experiences as a prisoner in the forced labor camp system of the former Soviet Union. Any of your belongings could be taken from you forcibly or stealthily by a guard or a fellow prisoner at any time.

If you were lucky enough to be given a two-day supply of bread and sugar Solzhenitsyn recommended eating it in one sitting. Then no one could steal it from you, and you would be released from worrying about it. The context of the quotation was the hardship of imprisonment: 1

Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag. Use your memory! Use your memory! It is those bitter seeds alone which might sprout and grow someday.

Look around you—there are people around you. Maybe you will remember one of them all your life and later eat your heart out because you didn’t make use of the opportunity to ask him questions. And the less you talk, the more you’ll hear. Thin strands of human lives stretch from island to island of the Archipelago.

In conclusion, the words were written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The quote was not originally intended to be light-hearted advice about the joys of travel. Solzhenitsyn was offering advice to compatriots for physical and mental survival.

(Thanks to Kate McClare whose inquiry about this quotation provided the impetus for QI to construct this question.)

Notes:

  1. 1974, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Volume I-II,  (Translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney), Quote Page 516 and 517, Publisher: Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)