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Cancer Ward: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – April 14, 2015
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The task of the writer, A.S. explained, "cannot be reduced to a defense or criticism of one form of government or another." His task, he said, "is connected with more general and durable questions, such as the secrets of the human heart and conscience, the confrontation between life and death, the triumph over spiritual sorrow, the laws of humanity over the ages."
In an environment of indiscriminate suffering, the reader finds himself wondering what "it" means just as a character may try to find meaning in their suffering--and both are probably disappointed that there is no inherent meaning. A line like "The place where ninety-nine weep but one laughs" begs for meaning, but it's just a camp saying that Oleg, a former zek, uses to identify himself as such to another. Why does Oleg go from the gulag, to the cancer ward, to exile? Why so much suffering for some? No one knows and no answers are offered. As the novel closes it's more important that's he's still alive: "The others hadn't survived. But he had. He hadn't even died of cancer."
The Hour of Trial: The Pattern of the Age and the Hour the World Will Be Tested
Cancer Ward tells the tale of a cancer patient coming from a semi-rural Russian town to a larger city for cancer treatment. Aleksandr provides a great description of the patient's existence, from the physical setting to the mental thought processes he goes through while being treated in Communist Russia. In the larger sense, Aleksandr provides insight to the human condition, and I think everyone who reads his books can agree they have met people like those who populate the pages of Solzhenitsyn's novels.
Whether CANCER WARD is your first Russian novel or not, it is a good place to obtain an insight into how Communist Russia operated, and how many Russians really felt about it. In telling the tale of the cancer patient, Solzhenitsyn points an accusatory finger at the political and social programs of his homeland.