One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. One Day if the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: Signet, 1963.

Reason read: May is supposedly one of the best times to visit Russia.

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov (#S 854) is a prisoner in a Stalinist work camp in Siberia with only two years left on his sentence. This is one day in his life, from reveille to lights-out. It has been called extraordinary and I couldn’t agree more. Ivan is the very picture of bravery, hope and above all, survival. Solzhenitsyn relentlessly reminds the reader of the Siberian bitter winters by using variations of words like frost, ice, snow, chill, freeze and cold over 120 times. Added to that is the constant lack of warmth (mentioned another 25 times). While Solzhenitsyn is reminding readers of the cold, Shukov is stressing the importance of flying under the radar; avoiding detection and unwanted attention. Whether he is squirreling away food or tools he is careful not to rock the boat. He knows his fate can be altered in the blink of an eye or the time it takes for a guard to focus on him.

Lines to like, “No clocks or watches ticked there – prisoners were not allowed to carry watches; the authorities knew the time for them” (p 32) “The thoughts of a prisoner – they’re not free either” (p 47) and “As elated as a rabbit when it finds it can still terrify a frog” (p 118).

Author fact: Solzhenitsyn served in the Russian army & was accused of making anti-Stalin remarks. He was sent to prison and after Stalin’s death, pardoned. Later still the Soviet Union revoked his citizenship so he moved to Vermont. Go figure.

Book trivia: One Day was published as s short story in 1962 in a Soviet literary magazine and was seen as a social protest. This is his first published novel.

BookLust Twist: from two places: Book Lust in the chapter called “Russian Heavies” (p 210) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).

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