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Cancer Ward: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – November 1, 1991

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Editorial Reviews


A literary event of the first magnitude. (Time)

The most moving of Solzhenitsyn's novels. (Clifton Fadiman)

Solzhenitsyn's characteristic strategy for subduing space is to temporize it--to transform it into time . . . This transformation of space into time allows Solzhenitsyn to present a variegated group of people who are caught in a collective situation of relative isolation by following the through their daily routine . . . These forcibly restricted milieus provide a natural and persuasive metaphor for life itself . . . How or why Solzhenitsyn is able to succeed . . . I do not know . . . It is probably finally a matter of genius--which is to say, mystery. But the novels rise above the questions they propound and serve--as great literature always has done--to be both a challenge to and a triumph for the free spirit of man wherever it allows itself to exist. (Earl Rovit, American Scholar)

Language Notes

Text: English, Russian (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: FSG Classics
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (November 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374511993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374511999
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

99 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Reading Solzhenitsyn's "Cancer Ward" without the historical background of the country in which it is set, a casual reader would be shocked to learn this book was banned by the Soviet government for many years. This book would seem to be nothing more than a sad story of life in a poor country's ward for terminally ill cancer patients. But through the interaction and description of the doctors and patients in Solzhenitsyn's brilliant novel, especially the loveable protagonist Kostoglotov, it becomes apparent that the ward is the Soviet system in a microcosm. With that understanding, this becomes one of the most scathing indictments of a totalitarian state written in the 20th Century. Even Orwell's great novels were not as passionately and directly damning of the Evil Empire.
This is a very typical Russian novel in that the setting is very stationary, the plot is slow moving and not well-defined in many parts, but it is also psychologically deep and gives the reader an immensely profound look at the minds and souls of its characters. But what separates this from so many Russian novels, especially those of the 20th century is that it slams the Communist regime while taking a bleak, Dostoevsky-like view of man as well. Kostoglotov's experiences at the end of this book are not as cathartic as those of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy characters, but the hope that he has is clearly the same in that it stems from a source greater than him or any man. This is an emotionally challenging book and the interpretation of the ending is divisive (just read some reviews here to see both opinions), but that just adds to the genius of this book. I believe the ending is phenomenally beautiful and Solzhenitsyn at his best.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Lloyd A. Conway on August 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
Those were the words that Dorothy used to describe Oz after waking up in the bosom of her family. The same intense feeling came over me while reading this book, a task that spanned several years, as I often put it aside for other things, always returning, drawn by the power of the author's prose in opening his world to us. The realness of Solzhenitsyn's worlds makes him perhaps the most accessible Russian novelist. As he described the village where Kostoglotov, the protagonist, lived, or in recounting how Ruasov, the villian/fellow victim ruined lives while justifying his actions, a vivid portrait fills the reader's imagination.
The human struggle to find hope and beauty in the most tragic of settings is what this novel evokes so well. Soviet medicine, cancer, a Zek fresh from the Gulag, and in a twilight turned dawn, Solzhenitsyn finds for his semi-autobiographical protagonist happiness, not only in winning victories against a malignant tumor, but in thoughts of perhaps one more summer to live, with nights sleeping under the stars, of three beech trees that stand like ancient guardians of an otherwise empty steppe horizon, a dog that shared his life there, and of a young nurse and spinster doctor, both of whom he hoped at times to love.
The picture one often got (accurately) of the Soviet Union was of greyness, gloom, uniform drabnes, and of a totalitarian police state. This book serves to remind the reader that, despite such circumstances, even desparately sick human being might still seek, and find, happiness in his own, private world.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Becky on March 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I re-read "Cancer Ward" about every two years and every time I fall in love with the main character--Kostoglotov--all over again. This book tell of the lives of patients and staff in a cancer ward in Russia.

Kostoglotov, the main character, is a man unfairly exiled under Stalin. He is a normal person like you or me who is living a life of perpetual exile. And then he gets cancer and comes to the ward barely clinging to life.

The book chronicles the lives of several people in the Cancer Ward. The book follows the lives of a couple of nurses that Kostoglotov flirts with and the life of a nurse he doesn't flirt with. There is the young student, the government official, and other cancer patients. Each one deals with cancer in their own way.

It is a sad, yet uplifting book about cancer and about Stalin, who really was a big dose of cancer for Russia. More people need to know about how cruel Stalin was. How he exiled people in his purges for no reason other than his own paranoia. Good people like Kostoglotov had their lives stolen from them.

In the end all Kostoglotov wants to do is get out of the cancer ward and back to his friends in his town of perpetual exile. Before he goes home he visits a zoo. I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but every time I read the ending I cry.

Thanks Mr. Solzhenitsyn for exposing Stalin for what he was and giving me the opportunity to read about everyday Russian people.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By on February 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Cancer Ward is often overshadowed by its predecessor, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and its successor, the immense memoir, The Gulag Archipelago. While the worldly impact of those two works is perhaps greater, the aesthetic power of Cancer Ward is stronger than both of those works. The story is poignant and powerful, reaching out and probing deeply into the essential questions that are never answered by not only Soviet society, but western culture as a whole. The religious message that emerges is stunning and unique, recalling the works of Dostoyevsky. Overall, this is an excellent book, and any reader who enjoyed One Day or Gulag will be blown away by this work.
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