By Matin Durrani
Who’s the only physicist to have won a Nobel Prize for Literature?
It’s one of those tricky questions that you either know or don’t. And obviously because I know the answer, I couldn’t resist raising it today.
His death last night at the age of 89 has been reported in most media outlets, including the New York Times, which has published a lengthy account of his life.
I’ll drip-feed you a few clues to help you along, if you haven’t got the answer already.
He was born in Kislovodsk in the Caucasus on 11 December 1918, graduating from Rostov University in 1941 with a degree in physics and mathematics.
In February 1945 he was arrested by the Soviet spy agency Smersh and was banged up for eight years in a labour camp.
His detention at Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan was inspiration for perhaps his most famous novel, which described an account of a single day of an inmate in a Soviet prison camp.
The book was published while he was a teacher of physics and astronomy in Ryazan, 120km south of Moscow.
The book — A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich — was allowed to be published by then president Khruschev despite its implicit criticism of the Soviet regime.
But when President Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev in October 1964, life grew ever tougher for our physicist, despite his Nobel prize in 1970.
He eventually was deported to the US in 1974, before returning to Russia in 1994.
He was — if you haven’t got it yet — Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn.