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Q. So then, in your view, literature continues to have a very high, moral, philosophical and political purpose?
A. Yes, in Russia it's always been that way.
Q. You have been compared with both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, both in scope of your subject matter and in your treatment of the psychology and ideas of your characters. What is your relationship to each of these two authors?
A. I have a very great feeling of respect and kinship to both of them, although in different ways. I am closer to Tolstoy in the form of the narrative, of the delivery of material, the variety of characters and circumstances. But I am closer to Dostoyevsky in my understanding of the spiritual interpretation of history.
Q. Did you feel a sense of destiny even when you were quite young, that you had something very important to write, to tell the world?
A. Apparently, there is some sort of intuition. We don't know where it comes from, but we have it. From the age of nine, I knew I was going to be a writer, although I didn't know what I was going to write about. Shortly after that, I was burned by the revolutionary theme, and so, starting in 1936, at age 18, I never had any hesitation about my theme, and there is nothing that could have deflected me from it. Sometimes you have a strange premonition. For instance, I started describing General Alexander Krymov. Knowing almost nothing about him, I simply made a provisional sketch as I imagined him, and later I learned that I had described him almost as though I had seen him. It was astonishing how well I guessed him.
Q. As a young man, at one point you were a convinced Communist, a member of the Komsomol. How did you come to change your ideas and become a Christian believer?
A. Let me make a correction. I was raised by my elders in the spirit of Christianity, and almost through my school years, up to 17 or 18, I was in opposition to Soviet education. I had to conceal this from others. But this force field of Marxism, as developed in the Soviet Union, has such an impact that it gets into the brain of the young man and little by little takes over. From age 17 or 18, I did change internally, and from that time, I became a Marxist, a Leninist, and believed in all these things. I lived that way up through the university and the war and up until prison, but in prison, I encountered a very broad variety of people. I saw that my convictions did not have a solid basis, could not stand up in dispute, and I had to renounce them. Then the question arose of going back to what I had learned as a child. It took more than a year or so. Other believers influenced me, but basically it was a return to what I had thought before. The fact that I was dying also shook me profoundly. At age 34 I was told I could not be saved, and then I returned to life. These kinds of upheavals always have an impact on a person's convictions.
Q. Your ideas of both the Christian faith, in the form of Russian Orthodoxy, and of Russian nationalism have caused some critics to accuse you of being chauvinistic and xenophobic. Are you a Russian nationalist, and what does that mean to you?