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56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in a labor camp
The entirety of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's short novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" takes place on a winter day in 1951 in a Siberian labor camp. The title character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, has been a prisoner there for the past eight years and has two more to go, provided his sentence isn't extended even longer for no reason at all. As a Soviet soldier in...
Published on February 19, 2002 by A.J.

16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And you thought *you* had a bad day...
Well, if nothing else, *One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich* will make you think twice about complaining about your day at the office or even that overtime shift down at the local minimart. This short novel boils the Soviet gulag experience down to its bare essentials. You're woken up before dawn cold and hungry. You're marched off to work cold and hungry. You're...
Published on January 9, 2007 by Mark Nadja

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56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in a labor camp, February 19, 2002
The entirety of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's short novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" takes place on a winter day in 1951 in a Siberian labor camp. The title character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, has been a prisoner there for the past eight years and has two more to go, provided his sentence isn't extended even longer for no reason at all. As a Soviet soldier in World War II, he was imprisoned after being accused of spying for the Germans, but the novel is concerned more with his daily routine at the camp than with the politics behind his imprisonment.
Like anybody who's been in a highly structured and disciplined environment for a long time, Shukhov has developed his own individualized way of living day to day, bending the rules, avoiding punishment, and making life a little more bearable under the circumstances. Temperatures are commonly well below zero and the food is barely nutritional enough to keep the prisoners alive, but Shukhov has adapted well enough to know how to stay warm and make the most out of his meals. On this particular day, Shukhov's squad is forced to work construction; the novel describes how well Shukhov has honed his masonry skills as he expertly lays blocks and mortar building a wall for a building that will be used to hold future prisoners. Life at the camp has made him tough and independent; his only weakness is tobacco, for which he will beg, borrow, or steal.
The novel is based on Solzhenitsyn's own experience as a labor camp prisoner under Stalin's reign, and therefore it has a sincere, natural, brutal quality that not even someone like Orwell could imitate. More than anything, though, it portrays a man whose spirit is strong enough to triumph over the most extreme adversity. Case in point: There is another prisoner named Fetiukov, a sniveling weasel who cries about his harsh treatment. Shukhov observes that Fetuikov won't survive his imprisonment because he has the wrong attitude, which is why he can't help but feel a little sorry for the guy. This work is not only an indictment of the machinations of one of the twentieth century's most oppressive political systems; it also succeeds as a concise study in humanism.
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149 of 160 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulus to a Searching, Introspective Analysis, April 10, 2001
Benjamin G. Gardner (Parkville, MO United States) - See all my reviews
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is indeed a powerful book. Were it merely the grim testimonial to life in the Soviet Gulags or a witness to infringed liberties, its force would be staggering. Were it a testimony to the indomitableness of human nature, it would be crushing. As it is, it shatters our perception of man and ourselves as no other book, save Anne Franke`s diary and the testemony of Elie Wiesl, could ever have done.
However, it is more than all the above. "One Day" is actually a searching look at human nature. The biting wind, jagged wire, frigid climate, watery soup, and the warmth provided by an extra pair of mittens or an hour of hard physical labor all find matches in the colorful crowd of characters that parades through this narrative - from the prison guards to the prisoners themselves to the prison director to the turncoat prisoners who sold their integrity for the favor of their oppressors.
This is a book to be read, first of all, for its historical value - a tribute to those who were imprisoned but whose voices were never heard, and a silent plea to commit all our forces to the proposition that such vileness will never reach our liberty-loving shores. No less importantly, this is a book that should prompt us to turn our eyes inward and question ourselves whether, in our own way, we are capable of committing the same atrocities against our fellow man, and whether, if subjected to the same suffering, we would have the strength of character to find as much comfort in a bowl of soup as we do now in the transient, unfounded knowledge that such inhumanity will not touch us.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sickness of Communism, May 21, 2002
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is one of those books that look deceptive. It isn't that long, and it's a little mass-market paperback that would blow away with the wind. Even the cover design really doesn't convey what lies inside. What we have with this book is a worthy contribution to the annals of Russian literature. Solzhenitsyn finds himself in the ranks of Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol with this gripping tale of the Stalinist Gulag system. Solzhenitsyn went on to write a massive indictment of the Gulag system in a three-volume work called, "The Gulag Archipelago." Solzhenitsyn won a Nobel Prize for Literature and found himself exiled, forcibly, from the Soviet Union for his writings. He returned to Russia after the collapse of Communism.
As the title indicates, the story covers one day in Ivan Denisovich's ten-year prison sentence. Ivan is a peasant who runs afoul of the authorities when the Germans capture him during the war. When he finds his way back to the Soviet camp, the authorities charge him with treason and sentence him to the camps. Denisovich is luckier than many of his fellow convicts; they are serving 25-year sentences. This day is better for Ivan than most; he ends up getting a better work assignment, a member of his squad gets a parcel loaded with food, and Ivan manages to get extra food rations. He even scores some tobacco, his only weakness.
Ivan lives day by day; it is the only way he can survive the camps. What is most shocking about this book is the matter-of-fact way in which the story is told. All of life is reduced to acquiring food and staying warm. Following the rules and avoiding punishment is just as important. Woe to the man who ends up in the guardhouse cells for ten days. I was nauseated by how hard Ivan worked on the power plant. Here's a guy who is a prisoner, forced to lay bricks in the middle of winter, and he is busting his hump to do a good job. But in a way, this can be uplifting, too. Ivan refuses to give up to the brutality of his condition. Every day is a struggle, but Ivan never grouses or causes problems. He accepts everything camp life throws at him and triumphs. You get the impression that Ivan is going to make it out of the camp no matter what.
This is an excellent book that exposes the real face of Communism. No matter how brutal Communism is (or was) as a system of government, it failed to crush the spirit of humanity. I recommend reading this book in conjunction with Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon," another book that exposes the sickness of Communism.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, July 18, 2001
Stalin held the Soviet Union in a grip of terror from 1941 until he died (or, some are now saying, was murdered) in 1953. Among the atrocities that were always suspected were the existence of brutal Siberian prisons. In 1963, Alexander Solzhenitzyn's novel, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, was published in America and around the world, revealing the realities of these experiences.
As much as the book makes an important statement of the political and social conditions of the era, it is also a wonderful work of literature. In a direct, spare style, the author goes through the minutiae of daily life from the perspective of one man, the title character who is mostly called Shukhov in the book. Like the other prisoners, Shukhov is not in for crime as we define it in America; his crime was to have been unlucky enough during World War II to be taken as a POW. Another prisoner's crime was to have received a small token of appreciation after the war from a British soldier. The brutalities they experience in their prison are not those commonly associated with contemporary American incarceration. Insufficient clothing, insufficient food and insufficient bedding in a remote arctic setting are just the beginning. They have nothing else. Work on building a "community" is only called off if the temperature goes lower than 42 degrees below zero. The men are given insufficient tools and supplies but are expected under threat to complete the building process in record time. On the one hand, the author writes, your worst enemy is the man next to you because you are both scrambling for the same meager scraps. At the same time, though, the dynamics of the system require that you give your allegiance to the gang. Many of the boss jobs are given to prisoners which yields another revelation about Stalin's world: the wall between prisoner and paid staff was very thin. Another: in the brief flashbacks of life outside the prison, there are struggles and inadequacies as well, no one has it easy. And another: the prisoners have one advantage that no one else in the USSR has, the freedom to communicate candidly without threat; what else can be done to those already living the life of punishment? At the end of the day, Shukhov is thrilled: he has caged a few extra scraps of food during the day and did nothing that would cause him to be thrown into solitary confinement of which he is most afraid.
My chief test of fiction is, does the author create an airtight world, using it to explicate universal truths of the human condition? ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH succeeds brilliantly. It is very readable, much like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, and while it profiles a terrible life, it also emits a spirituality that arises from the specter of men who find something to be grateful for at the end of the day, even if it is an extra crust of stale bread or the fact that in the last 24 hours, they did nothing, however innocently, however not their own fault, that would get them sent to solitary confinement.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel that sneaks up on you, May 24, 2004
This is an interesting little book regarded by many as a classic. It gives a picture of a single day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner in a Russian labour camp under Stalin. As I read this book I found myself thinking, "Sure this is good. It's well written and interesting, but so far it's not powerful or impactful." However this is a book that kind of sneaks up on you and hits you with it's powerful impact right at the end. It's almost like you need to see the whole picture of the day to realise the profound theme which runs through all the little things that happen. You read through the whole day waiting for a climax which never comes. And then at the end of the day you are compelled to look back and realise the focus on the simple things - the joy to be had in work, the value of a crust of bread, a bowl of soup, a good pair of shoes, a favour done for a friend, and a favour received, the value in having one's freedom, even when living in a prison camp, the thankfulness of not becoming sick. It really makes one appreciative of what we have.
"A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day."
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating semi-autobiographic novel, September 28, 2008
This review is from: One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich (Paperback)
After learning of the recent death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn I decided to read one of his books. I had never read any of his works and I knew I should acquaint myself with this man's oeuvre.

The book contains Solzhenitsyn's 1967 letter to the Fourth National Congress of Soviet Writers beseeching the organization to protect the works and the lives of promising writers. Upon reading this document the reader will realize that Mr. Solzhenitsyn was truly committed to his art and his literary compatriots.

The book begins with the line "Reveille was sounded, as always, at 5 A.M.--a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp." And from there Solzhenitsyn describes the onerous and hellish conditions of the camp and daily routine of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. It is clear that Solzhenitsyn used his own experience in a work camp (8 years) as the template for this novel.

Solzhenitsyn not only shows us how harrowing, corrupt and depressing the camp is, but through Denisovith allows us to see some of the charachters who make up the 'community' from the Captain to Kilgas, Caesar, Klevshin, Alyoshka, and Fetyukov. With the exception of Der and Clubfoot, the people in command remain nameless and for me, this really made the hopelessness of the setting resound. While we experience the camp and the interactions between gang bosses and prisoners through the eyes of Denisovith, Solzhenitsyn slips once in a while and reveals his personal distate for a certain practice or individual. Given what he went through in the camp, you can't blame him.

I finished this book in three days and I found it very absorbing. While I enjoyed 1984 and Brave New World, this book really captured the desperation, dread, futility and hope of such a restricted existence.

For any reader unfamiliar with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, I recommend this book as a starter. You won't be disappointed!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How we all should live our lives., January 9, 2001
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This is a short, engaging and beautifully written book about the horrors of life in a Siberian Gulag. What is best about the book is that, in the words of Oscar Wilde "although we are all in the gutter, some of us are looking at the stars". This a book about hope, about getting the best from a bad lot.
It does not matter if you are in a Gulag or in a boring job, or struggling with a marriage or family or what ever. You personally have the ability to see things as good or as bad, and how you perceive your life determines how you will enjoy it.
The protagonist in this book does his best, he works for the simple joy of a job well done, he delights in an extra bowl of porridge, and as a result his day is a good one. The full horror of his sentence is kept at bay by taking it one day at a time.
If you want an introduction to Solzhenitsyn this is the book for you. Don't believe all the stuff about political satire, don't try to work out if the boots are a metaphor for something in Russian Government, just read the words and revel in them.
Word for word this is one of the greatest books ever written.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing, subtle accomplishment, June 18, 2003
J. Hill (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
One Day is based on the real life experience of A. Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned for the better part of ten years (may have been more, can't remember) in a Russian hard labor camp. One of the ironies of this is that A.S. was not an outspoken dissident or a rabble rouser, he mostly held to the party line, or didn't give much thought to politics. He was imprisoned for an offhand comment after years of loyalty. After finally being released, and writing this novel, the book was banned in Russia and he was eventually forced into exile from his beloved/hated mother country. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for this and his subsequent works about Russia during his lifetime.
The character Ivan mirrors A.S. in some respects, most notably in the fact that he doesn't care at all about any of the ideology behind the camp. Some of the other characters debate politics or sociology and mostly get thrown into solitary confinement. But not Ivan. He thinks about food and how he's going to get more of it. He thinks about keeping his foot wrappings dry and leaves the political proselytizing to the fools who will soon be dead.
Ironically, this is where the book finds its true literary achievement. At the heart of this character is a total disillusion, not the smallest spark of hope or faith in ideals or humanity, and yet the experience of watching this character carefully manuever his way to an extra bowl of soup, a pinch of fresh tobbacco, an old crust of bread -- it's magical somehow. The scene of the prisoners laying bricks is practically transcendental. Here there is dignity, pride, a sense of accomplishment, community, even a small amount of pleasure. Did we forget we were reading about a communist forced labor camp? Yes, for a moment, we did.
There's a powerful statement about the nature of a human being in that. This is A.S.'s achievement, the puzzling complexity of this book -- it is precisely out of his hopelessness and disillusion that Ivan Denisovich's humanity and strength arise.
You can still feel the author's conflicted sorrow, the unquenched bitterness and the utter frustration with a communist system that was completely irrational and blindly destructive. Yet the source of that frustration is the love he had for his country that nearly destroyed him. This confusion and melding of opposite poles is only appropriate for literature about Soviet communism -- a system based on such high utopian ideals, yet responsible for some of civilization's most massive atrocities.
All in all a quick read and honestly not as depressing as it may sound. An incredible novel as well as an incredible piece of literary history. Besides, when was the last time you got off so easy reading a Nobel Prize winner?
PS. I happened to pick up All Quiet On the Western Front at the same time as this book. They turned out to be quite similar in a number of ways. If you like one of these books, you will certainly like the other. Both fascinating and oddly beautiful accounts of the misuse of the population by those in power.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a towering figure of the 20th Century, November 4, 2001
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963) (Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn 1918-)
Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the
following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God;
that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spend well-nigh 50 years working on the history
of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal
testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing
away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as
possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people,
I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has
-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Over the course of his long and brilliant career as a gadfly to both Russia and the West, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn managed to pull off a remarkable trifecta: he was exiled by the USSR, banished from the Cold War dialogue by Western political and cultural elites and then banished from the discussion over Russia's future by the intelligencia there. He has truly made a career as a voice crying in the wilderness, launching one jeremiad after another.
In 1945, Solzehenitsyn was sent to the Gulag for ten years after writing derogatory comments about Stalin in a letter to a friend. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, as the title suggests, describes what just one day would have been like behind the barbed wire. The story is set in the forced labor camp where he was imprisoned from 1950-53. That the system that perpetrated such crimes was evil is obvious, but it is through the sheer accumulation of mundane indignities and small triumphs (over hunger, cold, ill health, etc.) that the horror of the camps is really brought home. One of the most dramatic moments in the book, nicely illustrative of the small scale but enormous stakes of the victories won, comes when Ivan manages to secrete a spoon that he had forgotten he was carrying. In the end, simply surviving this barbaric system becomes the greatest victory.
With the publication of this book, in 1962, during the brief Kruschev thaw, Solzhenitsyn became an international sensation. In 1974, when the first sections of The Gulag Archipelago were published in Paris, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, tried for treason and forced into exile, eventually settling in Vermont. I suppose folks must have expected him to be so grateful for his asylum that he would express undying gratitude to the United States. If so they underestimated the moral tenor of the man. He proved to be nearly as outspoken a critic of the West as he had been of the USSR, culminating in his 1978 Harvard Commencement speech, where first he excoriated Western intellectuals in general (...)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ivan Denisovich is a symbol of bravery., May 13, 2004
I love this book. Ivan Denisovich is a symbol of bravery of the human spirit in despair. This story is necessary for all of us who used to the living in a society that supports freedom. The images of the Siberian camps in the Stalinist era are disturbing but impressive. There are many powerful outlines that express what a prisoner has to do in order to survive. Solzhenitsyn captures the society's dehumanization masterly. I was arrested in this story, making me feel as if I am Ivan Denisovich's cellmate. This is a masterwork on the psychology of continued existence. Reading about Ivan's life changed how I live each day. My uncle met Solzhenitsyn in CT. Great man. I wish I met him. He is one of my idols.
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One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich
One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Paperback - 1963)
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