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One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich (original 1942; edition 2000)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,920132336 (4.03)393
Member:matleestone
Title:One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich
Authors:Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Info:London : Penguin, 2000.
Collections:2007 reading, Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:classics, Soviet literature, Gulags, Russian literature

Work details

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1942)

  1. 70
    The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 : an experiment in literary investigation {Volume One, Parts I-II} by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (editfish)
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Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
The most striking aspect of this novel is its ability to extract humanity from the minutiae of what would otherwise be an expectedly harrowing experience of the Soviet Gulag. Make no mistake, it is still a recount of the latter, but Solzhenitsyn manages to highlight this by the very act of juxtaposing it with what a "great" day Ivan Denisovich manages to have despite his circumstances.

Every day is torturously the same but some days, instead of one bowl of unfilling gruel, you might get two; instead of being sent to work outdoors exposed to -27 degrees, you get to build a wall - and a good job of it too! - inside an uninsulated, windowless, doorless house; instead of receiving a care package from your family whom you haven't seen for eight years because you'd rather they benefit than the officials you'd have to bribe to receive the package, you might get a bit of a sausage from someone else's for doing them a favour.

And it's days like these that allow you to stash a little bit of what passes for bread inside your mattress. And it's days like these that allow your hidden bread to be overlooked in the daily checks by the guards. And it's days like these that makes Solzhenitsyn's message even more powerful than it'd be if he went the worst or even the most average day of Ivan Denisovich's sentence. And what a great day it is. ( )
1 vote kitzyl | Oct 31, 2016 |
"Here lads we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live.", 29 April 2013
By
sally tarbox

This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Bleak and horrific expose of Stalin's gulags of the 1950s, this follows one inmate from waking in a barrack hut, with its 'window panes on which the frost lay two fingers thick.' After a grim breakfast, the work parties are sent out into temperatures of up to -40 C:
'It was still dark, though in the east the sky was beginning to glow with a greenish tint. A light but piercing breeze came to meet them from the rising sun.
There is nothing as bitter as this moment when you go out to the morning muster - in the dark, in the cold, with a hungry belly, to face a whole day of work. You lose your tongue. You lose all desire to speak to anyone.'
Our protagonist, Shukhov, is totally focussed on not 'going under'; a few minutes near a fire, helping another inmate in the hope he'll share his parcel from home, swiping a bit of metal to make a knife, getting an extra bowl of soup. Shukhov knows how to play the system, lifting his hat to his superiors, careful to avoid the cells ('Ten days "hard" in the cells - if you sat them out to the end your health would be ruined for the rest of your life. TB and nothing but hospital for you till you croaked.') but able to stand up for himself among his peers.
Probably the most horrifying aspect of this animal-like existence, where inmates can only think of survival, is its sameness for huge chunks of time. Shukhov is in for 10 years but some face sentences of 25 years. As Solzhenitsyn so movingly concludes:
'There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.
The three extra days were for leap years.' ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
I first read this book years ago right after I finished school and got a job as a hod carrier (a mason's laborer). That was one hell of a tough job, but after reading this book my life sure looked a whole lot brighter. I still have the same copy but it's a bit more tattered these days from the times I've re-read it over the years. If you haven't read this book, no matter what genre you prefer, do yourself a favor and read it.
( )
1 vote Garrison0550 | May 10, 2016 |
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov (#S 854) is a prisoner in a Stalinist work camp in Siberia with only two years left on his sentence. This is one day in his life, from reveille to lights-out. It has been called extraordinary and I couldn't agree more. Ivan is the very picture of bravery, hope and above all, survival. Solzhenitsyn relentlessly reminds the reader of the Siberian bitter winters by using variations of words like frost, ice, snow, chill, freeze and cold over 120 times. Added to that is the constant lack of warmth (mentioned another 25 times). While Solzhenitsyn is reminding readers of the cold, Shukov is stressing the importance of flying under the radar; avoiding detection and unwanted attention. Whether he is squirreling away food or tools he is careful not to rock the boat. He knows his fate can be altered in the blink of an eye or the time it takes for a guard to focus on him. ( )
1 vote SeriousGrace | May 9, 2016 |
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
translated by Ralph Parker
Signet, 1963
ISBN 0-451-52310-5 (paperback), 158 p.

Review date: March 2016

What is a classic? To me, it seems that the classics are books that are enjoyed by many and will continue to be enjoyed by many, both because they have something to say and because they say it well. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's semi-autobiographical One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, recognized today, over half a century after its first publication in 1962, hits at least two of those points: it has been enjoyed by many, and it certainly has something to say; whether it will continue to be enjoyed, I can't say with certainty, but I suspect that it will be recognized as an important work for centuries to come. What I can say with certainty, however, is that I don't feel that Solzhenitsyn said what he had to say in a manner worth reading.

Briefly stated, this short novel follows its narrator, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, through a singly wintry Russian day behind the barbed wire fences and guardposts of a gulag prison. See, Ivan Denisovich is a political prisoner in Stalinist Russia. His crime: being captured by the Germans during World War II and living to tell about it. The authorities have branded him a spy. Sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a work camp, Shukhov does what he can to survive. Primarily, this means working most days and trying to avoid the attention of the prison guards, with little time for leisure and nothing to eat but runny oatmeal, small chunks of bread, watery stew, and rare treats shared by any friends who happen to get a care package from home. Such a life is grueling, disheartening, and sometimes even deadly. But in true Russian fashion, Ivan Denisovich is fatalistic, resigning himself to getting through each day one by one, until his ten years are up.

As an exposé, the novel is a crucial piece of twentieth-century literature, but as entertainment—as a story—it seems to fall flat. Granted, the eponymous day isn't meant to be the most exciting (although it is, apparently, more exciting than some), and the monotony and despair are central to the book, but still . . . stylistically, the book seems almost amateurish, and moreover, a number of readers, myself included, find it just plain boring. I want to sympathize with Ivan Denisovich, with his compatriots, with the author on whose life it's based, and with the millions who suffered in such a fashion under Stalin's iron-fisted rule . . . but based solely on the execution of this novel, I simply find that difficult to do.

Maybe it was my mindset at the time; I'm not sure I was really in the right frame of mind for such fatalism. Maybe it was my approach; I hear it's got more of an impact if one reads it straight through, in a single sitting, trudging along with Shukhov and his fellow prisoners. Maybe it was the translation; I read the first English version, translated by Ralph Parker in 1963, and I know there have been at least four more since then, including the 1991 version by H. T. Willetts, which was the only one approved by Solzhenitsyn himself. Maybe it was a combination of these. I can't say for sure.

I'm not going to write this book off completely. It's recognized as a modern classic, and I think that means I should at least give it a chance. Although I'm giving the Parker translation a mere two stars, I do plan on finding the Willetts translation and reading it at some point later on; having read one version already, I'll be mostly prepared for the dismal world I'll be entering then. Who knows? Maybe that's all it'll take for me to appreciate the book as it's meant to be appreciated, and I can add another star or two to my rating. Time will tell.

——————————

Rating:

2 stars: It was OK. Whereas many reviewers tend to be more generous, most works I rate receive two or three stars. At this rating, all my expectations have been met; there are few technical, conventional, or factual flaws, if any, and I found the work to be mildly entertaining and/or sufficiently informative, but it wouldn't be at the top of my list of recommendations. There is a bit of subjectivity at work: some otherwise three-star works might end up here simply because their genre or subject matter doesn't appeal to me. Equivalent to a school grade of 'C', or average. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Mar 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
This quiet tale has struck a powerful blow against the return of the horrors of the Stalin system. For Solzhenitsyn's words burn like acid.
 

» Add other authors (268 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Solzhenitsyn, Alexanderprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Parker, RalphTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalb, Marvin L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lahtela, MarkkuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tvardosky, AlexanderForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valiulina, SanaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Theun deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zelma, GeorgiCover photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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[Translator's Dedication] To my grandson, Dmitri Ivanovich, with thoughts of the future
First words
As usual, at five o'clock that morning reveille was sounded by the blows of a hammer on a length of rail hanging up near the staff quarters.
Quotations
Apart from sleep, the only time a prisoner lives for himself is ten minutes in the morning at breakfast, five minutes over dinner, and five at supper.
There was truth in that. Better to growl and submit. If you were stubborn they broke you.
You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.
When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine editions that include other works, or critical companions and study guides (such as Monarch Notes Study Guides) with this original 1962 novel. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374529523, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:04 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Ivan Denisovich is a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp who faces daily hardships and struggles to maintain his humanity.

(summary from another edition)

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