Monday, 5 March 2012

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (4.5/5)

The back says: This crisp, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin shook Russia and shocked the world when it first appeared. Khrushchev himself, during the Russian thaw, is said to have authorized the publication of this spare, stark description of life in a Siberian labour camp. 
I say: As soon as I started reading I realised that I have actually read this before, which turned out to be all well and good since I loved it, but only a couple of days after I had read it and had time to reflect over the impact it made (on me and the world).

There’s not really that much to be said about the writing; it does exactly what it says on the tin: Ivan takes us through a day in his life in a labour camp. He talks about the abuse from the guards, the food they are given and how he has to cheat and do favours to get enough, as well as how despite the fact that it’s hard work, he sometimes enjoys it.  We also get sparse information of his life prior to being sent there – as a soldier he was captured by the Germans which lead the Russians to think that he was a spy.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this was that it wasn’t just doom and gloom. Despite the fact that Ivan has been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, he has resigned himself to his fate and makes the best of the situation. As the day progresses he proves himself to be extremely resourceful, cunning, and a good judge of character/human nature, which is how he manages to get more food, favours and stay out of most trouble.

Due to my obsession with Russian literature I’ve read a few books about the labour camps but none of them have been as stark as this one. I can easily see myself reading this again in the future.


  1. I read this in high school and loved it so maybe I should re-read it too! I thought Solzhenitsyn's writing really captured the harshness of the camp and I even felt cold just reading it because of his realistic descriptions of winter. This book is really good but also really short so it's a great introductory book for those scared of Russian literature! :)

  2. Anyone who is scared of Russian literature should start with this book - easily the most accessible Russian novel I've ever read. It has some really hilarious parts, too, though perhaps that has to do with the translation. When Shukhov (not sure of the spelling - it's been a while) eats the sausage, I just love the sentence "End of sausage." It cracks me up every time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I never thought of it as an introduction to Russian literature, but I think you're both right. The plot and language is simple enough and yet it carries a lot of weight. And yeah, it did have the typical Russian humour in it as well. I love that.

  4. I read this one in middle school. I really want to re-read it someday!