Exiled Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn is looking foward to receiving an invitation to visit his homeland as Moscow authorities have suggested, his wife said Sunday.

Although Solzhenitsyn's wife, Natalya, would not comment directly on the invitation, her indication that the Nobel Prize winner would consider it raised for the first time the hope that her husband's stiff demands for returning home after 16 years may be near being met."It's premature," she said in a telephone interview. "We hope to receive the letter."

Russian Prime Minister Ivan Silayev, in a letter published Saturday in the daily Sovietskaya Rossiya, called Solzhenitsyn "a great son of the Russian people" whose return "would be an act as necessary as air to our homeland."

Solzhenitsyn, now 71, was taken from his home by KGB police in 1974 and put on a flight to the West after the foreign publication of his novel "The Gulag Archipelago," an account of life in Stalinist prison camps based on personal experience.

He has demanded that his major works be published in the Soviet Union and that the treason charge that precipitated his expulsion be lifted.

Mrs. Solzhenitsyn said she had heard about the invitation on the radio but did not feel it appropriate to comment since the family had not been personally contacted and has not seen the text of the letter.

Mrs. Solzhenitsyn said neither she nor her husband had met Silayev.

Only last week the novelist flatly rejected a decree by President Mik-hail Gorbachev restoring his citizenship and Mrs. Solzhenitsyn branded as a liar a Soviet official who said her husband had agreed to accept it after high-level contacts with Moscow.

She said then that neither she nor her husband planned to contact Soviet officials. "It's their turn to do something," she said. "They have to put things in order."