- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (August 4, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0451228146
- ISBN-13: 978-0451228147
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 533 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Reprint Edition
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Solzhenitsyn's first book, this economical, relentless novel is one of the most forceful artistic indictments of political oppression in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. The simply told story of a typical, grueling day of the titular character's life in a labor camp in Siberia, is a modern classic of Russian literature and quickly cemented Solzhenitsyn's international reputation upon publication in 1962. It is painfully apparent that Solzhenitsyn himself spent time in the gulags--he was imprisoned for nearly a decade as punishment for making derogatory statements about Stalin in a letter to a friend. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A masterpiece...Squarely in the mainstream of Russia’s great literary traditions.”—The Nation
“An extraordinary human document.”—Moscow’s Daily Mail
“Cannot fail to arouse bitterness and pain in the heart of the reader. A literary and political event of the first magnitude.”—New Statesman
“Stark...the story of how one falsely accused convict and his fellow prisoners survived or perished in an arctic slave labor camp after the war.”—Time
“Both as a political tract and as a literary work, it is in the Doctor Zhivago category.”—Washington Post
“Dramatic...outspoken...graphically detailed...a moving human record.”—Library Journal
Top customer reviews
This classic is about a Russian prison. Predictability = Historic Accuracy.
"A Day in the Life" is just that: the minutely detailed description of one day during political prisoner Shukhov's (Ivan) internment in the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn takes us through the coveted morning hour which a prisoner has to himself if he wakes up earlier than the bell, endless "prisoner counts" starting right after, horrifically deficient meals, an arduously demanding construction job, and finally, to the day's end, when all one can do is thank his lucky stars for still being alive, for still not being ill, and for thinking that perhaps, this experience might just be survivable.
This work does not describe horrific abuses, does not sensationalize the terror of the Gulag, does not dwell on despair, fear, hope, or pain. In fact Solzhenitsyn's account is most disturbing because of the protagonists' quiet acceptance and concrete, practical orientation. Unlike others in the camp, Ivan is neither an intellectual nor a spiritual man; he does not find peace in salvation through Christianity (as Alyosha), he does not seek slivers of hope and meaning in discussions with other political prisoners about literature and film. Instead, Ivan focuses on survival: on procuring an extra portion of oats for breakfast, on smuggling in a bit of a rusted blade into his barracks to build a knife, on staying warm in the Siberian winter. He "does not have time" to contemplate the beauty of stars and of its promise, to engage in conversation with other members of his squad, to think about his past and present, to philosophize about his condition.
This seems perhaps as the scariest condition of all, essentially indicating a loss of humanity, a return to the most animalistic, basic survivalist mode of being. For after all, what separates us from animals other than the power of human hope, thought, passion? Indeed, the aims of the Gulag, and of communism itself, were to reduce human beings into mere unthinking animals, instinctually scavenging for food and other necessities while loosing sight of the powers of human intellect, artistic impulse, and initiative.
Even more disturbing is Ivan's complacent acceptance. In fact, "A Day in the Life" is a good day for Ivan, he is "almost happy" by the end of the short story: that night, he "went to sleep fully content. He'd had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn't sent his squad to the settlement; he'd swipe a bowl of kasha at inner; the quad leader had fixed the rates well; he' built a wall an enjoyed doing it; he'd smuggled that bid of hacksaw blade through; he'd earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he'd bought that tobacco. And he hadn't fallen ill." (last page).
In an ironic twist, Ivan is thus born into a new humanity, one that has learned to live in, and almost find happiness, under the most brutal, demoralizing, repressive, tortuous conditions imaginable. The proof is his Survival.
Born and raised in Communist Romania, Solzhenistyn's world is a familiar, disturbingly dark, and utterly tragic one for me; the existential structures of eastern block consciousness, even outside of the Gulag, are eerily similar to those of the imprisoned in "One Day in the Life": the appreciation for every small detail of subsistence related pursuits, such as scrounging for a bit of extra sugar or butter, the ways in which people are turned against their neighbors through carefully articulated and craftily schemed policies and rules, the extensive bribery system/underground economy without which no one would survive, learning how to live in silence, barricading the soul/heart in an attempt at survival.
A "Day in the Life" is not only as a fictionalized memoir of Solzhenitsyn's own Gulag experience and a detailed account of the impossible life of prisoners in these camps, but may also be read as a broader metaphor for the ways in which eastern-block consciousness was shaped by state mechanisms during the communist era.
A personal note: If I was rating this book based on how much I enjoyed it, the rating would stand somewhere around a 2. It's filled with details on construction work, much of it was inscrutable to me (there were many terms that as a laywoman, I had to look up, and it was difficult to visualize such details as the configuration of the space, the usage of tools, the process of building, etc, without extensive knowledge of the field).
But more importantly, I don't understand, and am quite disturbed, at Ivan's path to survival. I clearly have never suffered a Gulag (though my family underwent its own tribulations under Ceausescu/the Securiatate), but I'd like to imagine I'd find my hope in dreams/philosophy/art if I was in Ivan's place, like the Captain, and, if one were to go by popular lore, as most political prisoners did. There were very few ways to escape communism's deep reaches into daily life back in this era, and the main route was through art and soulful expression in the absurd, satires, poetry, and a dark humor which is impossible to understand without having lived in such a repressive society. People read books voraciously, there was an entire culture built around going to art galleries, the opera & theater, around discussing important books (non political on the surface, usually, but of course, always subversively all political).
The Gulags were filled with members of the intelligensia: in Romania, there were even jokes (again, the dark humor) about how the masters of Romanian political philosophy, art, and history enjoyed the prison camps because they got to meet each other and philosophize all day: what could be so bad about that, after all? Personally, that (obviously romanticized) version of survival sounds much more appealing & humanizing than Ivan's, with which I do not personally identify. Then again, what would I know? I've never laid bricks in the cold for 14 hour days in the Siberian winter.
If you like this book, try the Cancer Ward and the books he wrote about WW1 on the Eastern Front. Powerful stuff.
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