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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1991 (first published in Russia in 1962) (translated from the Russian by H T Willets) 182 pp
I have meant to read this for a long time. Though it was not published in English until 1963 (in a translation not authorized by the author) it was originally published in a Soviet literary magazine in 1962. I generally put books onto My Big Fat Reading Project lists in the years when they were first published. The translation I read, published by FSG in 1991, was authorized by the author. Solzhenitsyn went on to write many more novels as well as novellas, plays, and essays. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Knowing that this story was set in a Soviet labor camp during the rule of Stalin, I was prepared for a grueling read. I keep a list of books I've read called Prison Camp Lit. None of them has made for pleasant reading. So I was surprised to find it almost lighthearted.
Of course, Ivan Denisovich and his fellow inmates are freezing half to death, starving half to death, and worked close to death. They are ill and have no idea when they will be released. Also, some are worse off than others due to various factors but often boiling down to a temperament that does poorly in such circumstances and probably in life as well.
Ivan is a canny fellow. He has figured out how to stay out of trouble, who to befriend, how to regulate the consumption of his precious bits of food and limited minutes of free time. So it is like when you are in a bad school or an oppressive work situation and you figure out how to play the game.
Except it is not like that because he cannot leave without the risk of being killed or actually dying of starvation or exposure in Siberia. Also, he survives with the gnawing uncertainty about what he has available to go back to once he is released.
The bottom line is that it is all seriously gruesome but every time Ivan was successful in navigating all the dangers, even to the smallest degree, I was happy for him. I kept visualizing a better existence for this man and I feel that was due to Solzhenitsyn's writing. It is predicated on the idea that as long as there is life in a person, there is hope. Also that you can take almost everything away from someone but as long as his spirit is not completely broken, you can't take that.
Instead of being depressed after reading about just one day in this man's life, I was uplifted.
(One Day in the Life of Ivan Denosivich is available in paperback on the Classics shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)