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Vermont town mulls exhibit for Nobelist

Alexander Solzhenitsyn joked with news people as he left his home in Cavendish to return to his native Russia.

Associated Press file 1994

Alexander Solzhenitsyn joked with news people as he left his home in Cavendish to return to his native Russia.

MONTPELIER — Residents of the southern Vermont town that was once the home in exile of former Soviet dissident and writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn are considering whether to convert an historic church into an exhibit to honor the Nobel laureate’s 18 years in Cavendish.

At Town Meeting — the locals’ annual decision-making gathering and the venue where Solzhenitsyn once addressed his neighbors when he arrived in 1977 — voters will be asked whether they should take ownership of a small stone Universalist Church and use it to honor him.

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Solzhenitsyn, who spent eight years in prison and labor camps for criticizing Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, said he chose Cavendish for its resemblance to his homeland and its small-town personality.

‘‘I dislike very much large cities with their empty and fussy lives,’’ he told his new neighbors. ‘‘I like very much the simple way of life and the population here, the simplicity and the human relationship. I like the countryside, and I like the climate with the long winter and the snow, which reminds me of Russia.’’

Solzhenitsyn wrote his best known works, ‘‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’’ and ‘‘The Gulag Archipelago,’’ based on his years imprisoned, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.

If the town decides at the meeting Monday to take over the deed to the church, plans call for some repairs and later an exhibit that would include videos of Solzhenitsyn, talking about his years in Cavendish where he lived until 1994 and where his son, Ignat, a pianist and conductor, still lives with his family.

The town, which prided itself on protecting Solzhenitsyn’s privacy, hopes to find the sign that once sat in a store window warning that the proprietors offered no directions to his home.

Visitors still ask, and townspeople still decline.

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