10 Writers Who Changed the World

Immediately after the end of World War II, people began to think that the world rested on simple and reasonable principles. Both global politics and social relations were based on ideas of progress and positive change, faith in science, enlightenment, technology, and a willingness to rationally explain any phenomenon. But since the second half of the ’60s, this world began to gradually collapse, and today, 40 years later, we live in a slightly different reality.

We more easily notice the changes that new technologies bring, sometimes without thinking that there are ideas behind the inventions. The nature of impending change was first sensed by those who are most often ahead of their time: writers. Among the many writers who have entertained us, there have been several who, in addition to the artistic merits of their prose, have given us a new vision. They articulated new ideas more convincingly than scientists and, in the end, created an intellectual and–perhaps even more importantly–emotional rationale for the future. They saw its challenges in the mundane and the everyday and exposed problems that existed but had previously been overlooked, pointed to smoldering conflicts, helped us to recognize new threats, and gave us new hope.

They were the writers who defined the mindset of a generation that had taken the brunt of the dramatic changes that seemed chaotic at the beginning of the twenty-first century. They addressed the most distressing questions of a bygone century, the ones that humanity, having survived world wars and unprecedented suffering before, was afraid to answer–and as a result forgot to ask the central question, “What will our tomorrow be like?”

Who are these writers? “RR” has allowed itself to compile a list of ten names of those who, in our opinion, have defined the mind and soul of our time.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Born in 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia.

By education he is a lawyer.

Main works

“Fallen Leaves” 1955

“No One Writes to the Colonel” 1957

“Big Mama’s Funeral” 1962

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” 1967

“Chronicle of a Declared Death” 1981

“Love in the Time of Cholera” 1985

“The General in His Labyrinth” 1989

“My Sad Whores” 2004

Nobel Prize in Literature – 1982

In early 2006, Gabriel Garcia Marquez announced that he would no longer write. He is probably one of the few living classics who can actually do that. In recent years, Márquez has published only his memoirs. He has much to remember, including how, in 1967, with the release of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, he received overnight recognition from millions of readers.

In 1982 the Colombian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for books in which, according to members of the Nobel Committee, “fantasy and reality combine to reflect the life and conflicts of an entire continent. It would be hard to find a more imprecise definition of the literature Marquez created. In his works, fantasy and reality do not overlap-they are one and the same and hardly distinguishable from each other.

Marquez, by that time already a well-known writer and journalist, wrote his most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in the mid-60s, in an era when the logical post-war world order began to gradually collapse. While European and North American subversives of the existing order offered alternatives to the old world, rejecting rationalism and pragmatism, Marquez created a different reality in which the mystical and the rational did not contradict each other. This picture of the world was so effective that it shaped a new view of reality for millions of readers. “…Maps and her own experience revealed to her that the history of this family is a chain of inevitable repetitions, a spinning wheel that would keep spinning to infinity if not for the increasing and irreversible wear and tear on the axis,” Marquez says of one of the novel’s heroines. The world is arranged according to the laws of myth. Life is the magical and the mundane, existing in a complexly organized and not always understandable to man. But this idea of human life and the world around us is not too optimistic. Time is not linear, but cyclical, and we are doomed to answer eternal questions over and over again.

What became impossible after Márquez?

After Marquez, it became impossible to say that the world exists according to simple and obvious rules.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

He was born in 1918 in Kislovodsk. Educated as a teacher of physics and mathematics.

Main works

“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” 1962

“In the First Circle” 1968

“Cancer Ward” 1968

“The Red Wheel” 1971-1991

“Gulag Archipelago” 1973-1975

“Two hundred years together” 2001-2003

1970 Nobel Prize in Literature.

All of Solzhenitsyn’s books have been published in Russia to date, his novel In the First Circle has even been made into a television movie, and the writer and publicist has become a natural part of the post-Soviet cultural landscape. But we should not forget that Solzhenitsyn’s major books had been read by Western audiences much earlier, and this had enormous significance for the entire world.

Solzhenitsyn gave the order to print The Gulag Archipelago in the West shortly after one of the three copies of the manuscript fell into the hands of the KGB in 1973, and the writer was deported in 1974. The first volume of this voluminous historical chronicle, based on careful work with documents and eyewitness accounts, was published by the YMCA-Press in Paris; the second and third volumes were published after Solzhenitsyn’s departure for the West. Quickly translated, The Gulag Archipelago had a bombshell effect, influencing the minds even of those who remained sympathetic to the left, and changing perceptions of the state of affairs in the Soviet Union. Books about the mass repressions of the Soviet Union have been published in the West before, but this is the first time that a thoroughly documented work has appeared, written by someone who has been through the horrors of the Gulag. The impression of this historical work was reinforced by Solzhenitsyn’s prose. His books became an indictment that could not be ignored. In the USSR, one could receive up to eight years in prison for reading them. In the West, the appearance of The Gulag Archipelago and other books by Solzhenitsyn led to a decline in the popularity of leftist movements and became one of the ideological pillars of the Cold War.

Solzhenitsyn, who returned to Russia in triumph, repeatedly criticized the current state of affairs in his homeland. For many, he is a prophet; for many, he is the epitome of obscurantism.

What became impossible after Solzhenitsyn?

After Solzhenitsyn, it is impossible to talk about progress based on socialist ideas.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, in the United States. Educated as an editor.

Main works

“The Bluest Eyes” 1970

“Tarred Scarecrow” 1981

“Sweetheart” 1987

“Jazz” 1992

“Paradise” 1998

“Love” 2003

1993 Nobel Prize in Literature

“Bill Clinton,” Toni Morrison once said, “is America’s first black president. He has almost all the traits of a black man: he’s a single-parent, poor working-class kid from Arkansas who plays the saxophone and likes McDonald’s food.”

There was deep meaning in that joke. Toni Morrison finally rid American blacks (or African-Americans, for that matter) of the “Uncle Tom complex” and proved, including through her writing career, that black skin color is a virtue.

Black writers came to American literature in the late eighteenth century, but until recently black literature remained marginalized or exotic. This began to change in the ’60s with the start of the civil rights struggle, but it was not until Toni Morrison came along that African American literature found its full voice.In the late ’60s, while editing books by the most famous African Americans of her time, such as Mohammed Ali and Angela Davis, Morrison wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eyes. The heroine of this book, a young black woman, prays every night, asking God for beautiful blue eyes–the ideal of white beauty–hoping that this miracle will change her life. But the miracle doesn’t happen, and the leaden nastiness of black American life doesn’t go away–the heroine is raped by her alcoholic father, and she goes mad.

“Bluest Eyes” was one of the notable literary events of 1970, and from that point on Toni Morrison became one of the leaders of “black” literature, whose work is critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Morrison became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize. By making a black woman the protagonist of her work, Morrison herself became a cultural hero who gave new colors to the world in the minds of everyday people. Morrison combined the themes of female addiction and the oppression of black people in her work, shaping the basic attitudes of political correctness that are now commonplace, especially the emphasis on racial specificity. She was the first to write about the relationship between racial identity, sexuality and violence, and she turned the black woman, who resolutely refused to exist by the rules created by white men for white men, into a symbol of a new culture. This culture was sought not only by African Americans, who finally found a voice in the world of great literature, but also by women of all colors, who were unhappy that the world was organized too masculine.

What became impossible after Morrison?

After Morrison, the Western world could not help but recognize that women and men, blacks and whites, have different languages and are all of equal value.

Salman Rushdie

He was born in Bombay, India, in 1947. A philologist by training.

Main works

“Children of Midnight” 1981

“Shame” 1983

“Satanic Verses” 1988

“The Moor’s Last Sigh.” 1995

“The Ground Beneath Her Feet” 1999

“Rage” 2001

“Shalimar the Clown” 2005

The Booker Prize (United Kingdom) – 1981

“The Booker Booker Prize,” the award for the best book to win a Booker in the last 25 years, 1993

Born in Bombay to a Muslim family and raised in Pakistan, Rushdie took on much more of the “white man’s burden” than the Englishman Kipling grew up in India. Rushdie’s attempt to interpret Eastern values through Western aesthetics almost became tragic for the writer and made the Western world realize how distant the West and the East were. It was not literature that brought him worldwide fame, but the curse of the Iranian Muslim spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

In what seemed at the time to be a victorious era of postmodernism, when the word was perceived only in a series of plumes of endless associations, Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses provoked the genuine anger of many millions of Muslims – whether many of them read it, however, is unknown. Although The Satanic Verses is not at all an ideological novel, but rather a witty intellectual game in the spirit of Borges, it became clear on February 14, 1989, that the word still matters, especially if it is a word of satire. Orthodox Muslims saw the image of one of the characters in The Satanic Verses as a parody of the Prophet Muhammad and a mockery of the text of the Koran. On that day, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s execution. A bounty of $2.8 million was put on his head. A month later, Britain and Iran severed diplomatic relations over the Rushdie affair. “Satanic Verses was banned and destroyed in many Muslim countries; explosions occurred outside stores where the book was sold; the translators of the novel were assassinated.

The story of The Satanic Verses was – though no one would have guessed it in 1989 – the precursor to the “Danish Cartoons” scandal. The Berlin walls between East and West were crumbling, the Cold War was coming to an end, and no one wanted to believe in a new civilizational confrontation. Iran’s Islamic leadership later annulled a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s destruction, but many extremists still consider him one of Islam’s main enemies and intend to destroy the writer.

Salman Rushdie’s whereabouts were unknown for several years. By returning – albeit unwittingly – literature to a key role in the struggle of ideologies, Salman Rushdie, a fine intellectual and researcher of Indian history, has become one of the main fighters for freedom of speech and opponents of radical Islam. At the beginning of his writing career, Rushdie did not want to be a tribune or a public figure, but to interpret his own emotional experience and the age-old intellectual heritage of the East from a Western literary perspective. But the world of big ideology changed his original, completely innocent and far from political intention. While continuing to write prose, Rushdie became a prolific publicist, calling for a reform of Islam and a new Enlightenment in which the right to be offended would be protected.

What became impossible after Rushdie?

After Rushdie, it is impossible to believe that East and West are really moving toward each other.

Milan Kundera

Born in 1929 in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He is a filmmaker by training.

Main works

Funny Loves 1962

Jacques and His Master 1975

A Farewell Waltz 1976

The Book of Laughter and Oblivion 1979

The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1984

Immortality 1990

Nonchalance 1995

Ignorance 2003

The truth about life under totalitarian rule reached the democratic world in fragments, and one of the main sources of information was the émigrés who were willingly or forcedly in the West. Most of them were able to speak freely and shared their fearful and unfamiliar experiences. The same could have been expected of Czech writer Milan Kundera, who left for France in 1975. He was first exposed to repression as a student, was an active participant in the Prague Spring, and was not allowed to publish after the restoration of orthodox Communist rule. However, once in the West, he did not write the story of the destruction of Czech socialism with a human face by Soviet tanks, but, to the unparalleled surprise of his Western readers, said that the most frightening thing for him was a world in which a sense of humor had been lost. Kundera offered an entirely unexpected model for the politicized Western intellectual of the fugitive from communism – a writer whose skepticism and pessimism are not caused by the system, but by the individual. For someone living under a totalitarian regime, love, sex, or Schoenberg’s music may be more important than losing a job or being exiled. The real threat to happiness and our very existence lies within us.

One of the characters in Kundera’s most famous work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the Swiss professor Franz sees his lover Sabine as a politically abused dissident. Sabine, on the other hand, perceives this as a manifestation of vulgarity: ideology is not important in love. Whereas Solzhenitsyn described the workings of the monstrous machine of annihilation in a large-scale and historically accurate manner, Kundera made a private man his hero, saying that political repression is only part of the suffering that befalls him. Combining irony and pessimism, Kundera showed with unprecedented clarity that the imperfection of human nature has nothing to do with everyday politics or the form of government.

What became impossible after Kundera?

After Kundera, it became impossible to speak of totalitarianism as the exclusive source of the suppression of the individual in the twentieth century.

Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952. An architect by training.

Main works

“The White Fortress” 1985

“Black Book” 1990

“New Life” 1995

“My Name is Red” 1998

“Other Colors” 1999

“Snow” 2002

“Istanbul” 2003

IMPAC Prize – 2003

2006 Nobel Prize in Literature

He was born in the city that has been connecting East and West for two thousand years. Istanbul, its history, the peculiar melancholy of its inhabitants and the complex relationship between Eastern and Western cultures have been the main characters of his books for almost 30 years. Seeking to be European and Turk at the same time, Pamuk tried to speak to his compatriots in the language of Western notions of history–and he convinced the world, unexpectedly, that this language was not universal.

Pamuk broke the worst taboo of Turkish society. He is the first Turk to speak out publicly about the Armenian genocide, 90 years after the tragedy of 1915. In an interview with a Swiss newspaper in February 2005, he said: “Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed on this land, but no one but me dares to talk about it.” The scandal that immediately erupted showed the world what freedom of speech means in Turkey and brought new attention to the problems of interpreting recent history, convincing the reading public once again that the Nobel prizes for literature are above all political.

Accused of “insulting the Turkish nation,” Pamuk was put on trial in December 2005. The writer faced three years in prison. Whether or not Pamuk anticipated such a twist of fate, the main character in his novel Snow, published three years before the trial, the poet Ka finds himself in prison in Kars, the town where the 1915 events took place.

No doubt Pamuk’s trial was halted only after the European Union, of which Turkey aspires to become a member, issued an official opinion on the trial. “It is not Orhan

Pamuk, but Turkey,” said a statement signed by the head of the European Community’s enlargement commission. – The trial is a litmus test and will demonstrate whether Turkey is truly committed to freedom of speech and reforms to strengthen rights.” The case against Pamuk was dropped a week before the European Union began preliminary discussions about Turkey’s accession to the organization. The first Turkish intellectual to remind his country of its responsibility for the Armenian genocide now lives in New York.

What became impossible after Pamuk?

Pamuk helped Europe understand that the “Europeanness” of Turkey – and probably of the entire East – was greatly exaggerated.

Michel Houellebecq

Born in 1958 on the island of Réunion, overseas France. An environmental engineer by training.

Main works

“Expanding the Space of Struggle” 1994

“Elementary Particles” 1998

“Lanzarote” 2000

“Platform” 2001

“The Possibility of an Island.” 2005

IMPAC Literary Award 2002.

Europeans earn a lot and work a little. They have created the rules of adjustment to a changing world and the uniform laws of a new, unified Europe; they can travel all over the planet and enjoy all the advances of technology and culture. And they are more miserable than ever.

Novelist, poet and, more recently, composer, Houellebecq has become the voice of a generation of lonely and affluent Westerners, writing books filled with pessimism. His novels, united by skepticism and sadness, sometimes turn into moralizing and always into acrimonious rejection of modern life.

Michel Houellebecq was the first popular writer who unequivocally expressed his discontent with the society of mass consumption and total standardization. Houellebecq exposed all the phobias of the lonely Western man, bringing together sexism, contempt for national minorities, Islamophobia (Muslim organizations even sued Houellebecq, but a Paris jury found his words “the exercise of legitimate freedom to criticize religious doctrines”), technophobia, fear of terrorism, dependence on the mass media, and discontent with advertising.

Today’s world, according to Houellebecq, is a dull, melancholic, surfeited civilization of people who do not know what to do and are in dire need of love – this need is realized in a fascination with sex tourism. He might be considered a misanthrope, though in fact he is a romantic, painfully dreaming of a better world and living in a civilization that seems to have no better future.

What has become impossible after Houellebecq?

Whoever has read Houellebecq’s books will inevitably realize that material prosperity in a world of social harmony in no way approximates individual happiness.

Joan Rowling

Born in 1965 in Yate (UK). By education, she is a translator.

Main works

7 Harry Potter novels

The Harry Potter novels have repeatedly been named books of the year

We were finally afraid that our children had stopped reading. We blamed – and rightly so – television and computers for the fact that the new generation would be oriented toward the simplest consumption of the simplest cultural products. But suddenly there was this book, which our children, and then we ourselves, read without tearing up. And it turned out to be a magical tale, which talked about the struggle between good and evil, the need to choose between them and bear personal responsibility for it.

The plot of this book was invented on a train from Manchester to London, four hours late. The story itself is set in a café in Edinburgh, where an unemployed translator who had recently left her husband was living on welfare. The manuscript, retyped on an old mechanical typewriter, was approved not by the publisher but by his eight-year-old daughter. The publisher agreed to print the book, gave an advance of fifteen hundred pounds and advised the aspiring author to find a full-time job – it is unlikely she could earn a living writing stories. The book, entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in June 1997 in a thousand copies. Today a copy of the first edition of the tale sells at auction for 25 thousand pounds sterling.

The success of Joanne Rowling’s series of tales about a young apprentice at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft is resounding and unquestionable. In 2005, the day the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released, more copies of the tale were sold than copies of The Da Vinci Code, the 2004 bestseller, sold in a year. Rowling became the first writer in the world to make a billion dollars just by writing – she spends a huge part of her income on charity, poverty and disease. Rowling is periodically accused of plagiarism, a great many unauthorized “sequels” and imitations appear, and this, too, is a sign of success and attention to what the British writer has achieved. The joint appeal to Rowling by two famous writers, Stephen King and John Irving, to keep Harry Potter alive in the last book of the series speaks volumes. Rowling has made literature a subject of universal interest again, and, most importantly, her Harry Potter tales have restored children’s interest in reading at a time when it seemed that computer games had definitively defeated books. We are reading a lot again – thanks to the fairy tale. But they seem to be all we want to read.

What became impossible after Rowling?

After reading these tales, it is impossible to say that the simple truths told in her books are obsolete.

Umberto Eco

He was born in 1932 in Alessandria (Italy). By education a philologist.

“…There is one detail that amazes me the most. One hundred times out of a hundred, when a critic or a reader writes or says that my character expresses too modern thoughts, in every case we are talking about literal quotations from texts of the fourteenth century. And on other pages, readers would find “exquisitely medieval” passages that I wrote in the knowledge that I was indecently modernizing. The point is that everyone has their own notion-usually a twisted one-of the Middle Ages. Only we, the monks of the time, have the truth. But for that, it can be burned at the stake. :: Photo: Gamma/East News

Main works

“The Name of the Rose” 1980

“Foucault’s Pendulum” 1988

“Eve Island” 1994

“Baudolino” 2000

“The Magic Flame of Queen Loana” 2005

Having written dozens of books on medieval aesthetics, semiotics and problems of text perception, the Italian humanitarian Umberto Eco has the temperament of a publicist and the gift of the popularizer, not always typical of academic scholars. In 1980, he made his debut as a novelist, publishing his most famous novel, The Name of the Rose.

Eco began to write the novel as an ordinary detective, but his love of the Middle Ages and quotations gradually took over from the simplicity of the original idea. The story of a monk who resembles both the medieval philosopher William of Occam and Sherlock Holmes, investigating murders in a monastery and looking for the manuscript of Aristotle’s Poetics, was more than just a detective, although it can certainly be read only by following the twists and turns of the plot. By filling The Name of the Rose with explicit and implicit quotations, subtle intellectual play, and parodies (particularly by Borges), Eco has awakened an extraordinary interest in the Middle Ages and created an entirely new genre of “semiotic thriller. In the commentaries accompanying the novel he explained in accessible language to the mass reader that postmodernism is an ironic rather than subservient attitude to any text, however authoritative, and a firm knowledge that any new word could already have been said and therefore could be expressed by quotation.

The ironic Ecko said in clear terms that history never ends and, moreover, evolves beyond any law. Our world is complex and layered, there is a past in modernity, and the Middle Ages are closer than they seem. This sense of the continuity of history was necessary for Europeans entering a new era after the stability of the Cold War, and Eco’s warning is more relevant than ever: do not blindly believe in progress – often we think that we are moving forward, but in fact we are on the threshold of a new Middle Ages.

What has become impossible after Eco?

After the books written by Eco, it is impossible to talk about the “end of history” and unconditional historical progress.

Carlos Castaneda

Born in 1925 in Cajamarca, Peru, or 1931 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he died in 1998. An anthropologist by training.

“Don Juan believes that what he calls vision is comprehension without any interpretation; it is pure, willing cognitive perception. Magic is the means to this end. To destroy the certainty that the world is the way you have always been taught, you must learn a new description of the world–magic–and then hold the old and the new together. Then you will see that no description is finite” :: Photo: Ullstein Bild/Vostock Photo

Main Works

“The Teachings of Don Juan: The Way of Yaqui Indian Knowledge” 1968

“The Special Reality” 1971

“Journey to Ixtlan” 1972

“1974 “Tales of Power

“The Second Circle of Power” 1977

“The Gift of the Eagle,” 1981.

“Inner Fire” 1984

“The Power of Silence” 1987

“The Art of Dreaming 1994

“The Active Side of Infinity” 1995

“Wheel of Time” 1998

The real time and place of his birth are unknown, few people know where he is buried, his photographs are rare, he gave almost no interviews, moreover, we do not even know what his real name was. Such secrecy was perfectly logical for Carlos Castaneda: he taught that one should refuse to take oneself too seriously, and renounced his own personal history. It is difficult to determine who he was: Castaneda himself considered himself an anthropologist, while anthropologists and ethnographers consider him a writer and millions of followers consider him a guru who opened the way to true knowledge.

What is certain is that in the early ’60s Castaneda, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, received a grant for research on ethnobotany, simply put, to describe the plants used in ritual practice by Mexican Indians. On his way to Mexico, Castaneda met Juan Mathis, a shaman of the Yaqui tribe. Castaneda’s experiences with Don Juan became material for his dissertation and books, which academic circles refuse to consider ethnographic.

As Time magazine wrote in 1973, “For tens of thousands of fans of all ages, Castaneda’s first meeting with Juan Mathis in 1960 at a dusty bus stop in Arizona near the Mexican border was a far more significant literary event than the meeting of Dante and Beatrice. Exotic and at the same time accessible (at least to the inhabitants of the homeland of the “children of flowers” – California) mysticism, the Native American world, the rejection of rationality in favor of intense introspection combined with the unobtrusive promotion of drug practices made Castaneda’s books a new sacred scripture for millions of devotees who are ready to perceive reality irrationally. The stunning effect of Castaneda’s books was that he not only described the “way of the warrior,” but also explained the technologies of progression toward true knowledge: when meditation was needed, when physical exercise was required, when the consumption of the cactus Lophophora Williamsii, now known to the world as peyote.

The world, according to Castaneda and Don Juan, is incomprehensible and cannot be described in human language, and a man of knowledge is one who is ready to act without thinking. One must live by actions, not thoughts about them, and recognize the existence of multiple realities.

What became impossible after Castaneda?

After Castaneda, it became impossible to speak of an exclusively rational knowledge of the world.