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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A…

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel (original 1942; edition 2005)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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8,884131339 (4.03)390
Title:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel
Authors:Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2005), Paperback, 182 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

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

  1. 70
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"Here lads we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live.", 29 April 2013
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.



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 |

A wake-up call sounds in a Stalinist labor camp in 1951, on a bitterly cold winter morning. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner in Camp HQ, is usually up on time, but this morning he suffers a fever and aches, and yearns for a little more time in bed. Thinking that a kindly guard is on duty, he rests past the wake-up call a while. Unfortunately, a different guard is making the rounds, and he punishes Shukhov for oversleeping with three days in the solitary confinement cell, which the characters call “the hole.” Led off, Shukhov soon realizes that the sentence is just a threat, and that he will only have to wash the floors of the officers’ headquarters. Shukhov removes his shoes and efficiently completes the job, proceeding quickly to the mess hall, where he worries he has missed breakfast. He meets the sniveling Fetyukov, a colleague who has saved Shukhov’s gruel for him. After breakfast, Shukhov heads to sick bay to get his fever and aches examined. The medical orderly, Kolya, tells him he should have been ill the previous night, since the clinic is closed in the morning. Shukhov’s fever is not high enough to get him off work.

Shukhov returns to the hut in time for the body search and body count, in which the prisoners are searched for forbidden articles and counted to make sure none have escaped. He carefully hides the bread he has taken at breakfast, sewing it into his mattress. The men undress in the freezing cold for the search. One inmate, Buynovsky, is wearing a flannel vest. He is sentenced to ten days in the hole for this infraction. Shukhov is happy not to have any forbidden things on him. He has neither food nor letters to his family, which he does not write anymore. He reflects on his wife’s recent letter urging him to take up carpet-dyeing when he gets out of prison. But Shukhov is not interested in this opportunity, despite the easy money.

After the search, Shukhov’s group, Gang 104, is marched off for work at the Power Station, a building site in the open fields. At the site, Shukhov looks at his colleague Alyoshka, a devout Baptist who seems happy to slave away. Shukhov is filled with respect for his foreman, Tyurin, a big tough man with a decent soul. Though they are forbidden to do so, the men try to keep the wind out of the windows by covering them with tar paper. The teenage prisoner Gopchik fetches wire for piping, and asks Shukhov to show him how to make a spoon. They all rest a while. It is too soon before the noon meal to start laying bricks, as the mortar would only dry in the trough while they ate.

At the noon meal, Shukhov sneaks a second helping of food. He is full after eating two bowls of gruel. The gang returns to the work site. On the way, Shukhov spots a bit of scrap metal in the snow, which he takes and hides in the hopes of making a knife out of it later. The prisoners stoke the stove. While preparing to work again, the gang hears Tyurin’s tale of being imprisoned for having a rich peasant father. The men begin to mortar the wall. One of the deputy foremen, Pavlo, agrees to be on the mortar team, though, as an officer, he is not required to mortar. Pavlo’s friendliness earns him the men’s respect. The bricklaying begins. Shukhov works feverishly and makes no errors. A camp manager stops by to chide Tyurin for the tar paper illegally hung in the work site windows. He threatens to punish Tyurin, but Tyurin waves him off. Alyoshka works selflessly. Time passes quickly, and the men hear the meal signal. Shukhov continues working, even after his colleague Kildigs has stopped. He is late to lunch now, but he wants to hide his precious trowel, a tool that is hard to get, so that another man will not take it. He is nearly unable to join his gang, but catches up when the gang is delayed by preparations for another body count. The men discover that a man from Moldavia is missing from another gang. The man, who has fallen asleep at the site, is finally found. The other men are furious at him for delaying their meal.

Shukhov remembers his earlier intention to go to sick bay but reflects that he would rather have supper. At the body search, Shukhov suddenly panics, remembering the bit of steel he has hidden in his mitten. He prays to God to be kept out of the hole. By a stroke of good luck, the guard does not discover the bit of steel. Shukhov returns to the camp. On the suspicion that a fellow inmate, Tsezar, has received a rich parcel of food, he offers to wait in line in the parcel room for Tsezar. Shukhov waits until Tsezar comes. There is indeed a package. Shukhov makes his way to the mess hall for supper, where the gangs are being admitted by twos instead of singly, creating a chaos inside. He manages to find his comrades, grab an empty tray, and bring their rations to the table. For his outstanding labor at the Power Station, Shukhov has been awarded 400 grams of bread. He eats in bliss, eyeing his extra rations to make sure no one grabs them. He takes Tsezar’s ration to the hut, where Tsezar, in exception to the camp rules, is allowed to eat. Tsezar has displayed the contents of his parcel to everyone, and he allows Shukhov to keep Tsezar’s supper ration.

After the body count, Shukhov prepares to sleep, though the second count has not yet been completed. He revels in his abundance of bread. At the second roll call, Tsezar panics, unsure what to do with his parcel. Shukhov helps him guard it from the other prisoners. Tsezar rewards Shukhov with a couple of biscuits and a bit of sausage. Before sleeping, Shukhov thanks God for getting him through another day. Alyoshka hears Shukhov’s prayer, and urges Shukhov to pray properly. He also encourages Shukhov to pursue the goods of the spirit and not, as Tsezar does, those of the flesh. Shukhov reflects on Alyoshka’s sentiment. Suddenly, for no reason, he hands Alyoshka one of his biscuits. Shukhov meditates that his day has been almost happy. This day has been just one of the 3,653 days of Shukhov’s sentence.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
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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.
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.
Last words
(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)

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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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