- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (August 4, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0451228146
- ISBN-13: 978-0451228147
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (458 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,070 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.
“Cannot fail to arouse bitterness and pain in the heart of the reader. A literary and political event of the first magnitude.”
“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.”
“Both as a political tract and as a literary work, it is in the Doctor Zhivago category.”
“Dramatic . . . outspoken . . . graphically detailed . . . a moving human record.”
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
"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.
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