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Cancer Ward (1968)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,952403,201 (4.07)157
"Cancer Ward" examines the relationship of a group of people in the cancer ward of a provincial Soviet hospital in 1955, two years after Stalin's death. We see them under normal circumstances, and also reexamined at the eleventh hour of illness. Together they represent a remarkable cross-section of contemporary Russian characters and attitudes. The experiences of the central character, Oleg Kostoglotov, closely reflect the author's own: Solzhenitsyn himself became a patient in a cancer ward in the mid-1950s, on his release from a labor camp, and later recovered. Translated by Nicholas Bethell and David Burg.… (more)
  1. 10
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (fundevogel)
  2. 00
    Galina (une histoire russe) by Galina Vishnevskaya (Eustrabirbeonne)
    Eustrabirbeonne: Galina and Solzhenitsyn are friends (she and Rostropovich gave him sanctuary at their house in the 1960s, when he was expelled from University). There is great dark humour at comparing the way each of them describes the reactions at Stalin's death : the hysterical surge of grief in Leningrad where Galina lived; the joy of the convicts at the gulag, when they learned that the "ogre"had died at last.… (more)

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» See also 157 mentions

English (35)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
My Book Club read this book in April of 2020, a book chosen well before the Pandemic. While perhaps not the easiest book to get through while being isolated at home due to fear of contagion, we were all very glad to have read all 536 pages. Meeting took place on Zoom , of course. We had a most interesting lively discussion about Russian history and philosophy and it ended up being a diversion from current affairs.
Outstanding. ( )
  bhowell | May 10, 2020 |
As's story with underlying sadness arising from the situation of most of the characters...they aren't going to make it. An adequate translation I suppose. But it does reinforce the long Russian Novel stereotype. If you are bi-polar, there are times when you should not start this book. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 20, 2019 |
A man of no talent craves long life, yet Epicurus had once observed that a fool, if offered eternity, would not know what to do with it.

Cancer Ward (CW) consciously strives for the epic, readily aware of the distance between itself and the baggy monsters of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and yet sways in the limitations of the material especially in moral terms. Unlike Europe after the Shoah, the Soviet experiment had different questions to ask itself after Stalin's death. Caught almost in the sway of self-conscious people becoming cynical. I place CW apart from the other major works of Solzhenitsyn and place it instead closer to Grossman's Forever Flowing, another novel about the inmate's impossibility of returning --to normality, to youth, to belief. Memory becomes a clever foe, a challenge.

This is an ensemble piece - similar to First Circle - which pulsates with social discord and apprehension. The patients have all internalized the implications of their illness. The setting is the Thaw of Khrushchev at a clinic in Uzbekistan. The presence of the oncological leads the reader to assume such is a metaphor. Not entirely. Matters are more organic -- the effects of the Purge, the show trials -- they are returning-- as the metaphysical meaning of Remission becomes palpable , even rendered upon the very flesh of the sick. I would be most curious as to what Foucault gathered about this protean display of the abject and possible redemption. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Solzhenitsyn uses the setting of a cancer ward in one of the central Asian republics of the Soviet Union to present a cross-section of society. The first patient that arrives is a mid-level apparatchik who feels himself deserving of better accommodations and disdains the other patients, which include a gulag exile, various central Asian workers, an intellectual and doctors and nurses from many backgrounds. They all have hours of sitting around the ward, waiting for their medicine, doctor's visits, treatment or surgery and thus conversations and relationships develop. Stalin is dead and there are rumors that a general amnesty is going to happen. Each patient muses over his future and his past, and the reader learns how each person's circumstances, for better or worse, were shaped by Stalinism. The ugly immorality of some of their choices and their remorse, or lack thereof, become clear. It also presents a problem for which no answer is given: what justice can there really be for those who suffered because of the entrenched amorality that had saturated a society to such an extent? Highly recommended. ( )
  Marse | Dec 16, 2018 |
It had been a while since I read something from the bookslut 100 list, so I picked this book up and it blew me away.

What is this book about? What isn't it about? It takes place in a cancer ward in a mid-size Soviet town in 1955. Since cancer doesn't discriminate, in the ward's beds are exiles and good party members, young men and men trying to secure a pension before retirement, men with hope and men without. Adding the orderlies, nurses, and doctors (most of whom are women), Solzhenitsyn is able to tell the stories of an amazing cross-section of post-war Soviet society.

Given this wealth of characters to work with, Solzhenitsyn asks and ventures to answer dozens of questions: What do men live by? How much should patients know about their own treatment? How does one prepare for death? What price is worth paying to remain alive? What is necessary for happiness? How should one deal with workers who won't pull their weight? How does one hold on to hope?

While Solzhenitsyn ventures answers here, he never hammers down with the answers. The different characters unsurprisingly come up with different answers, and even Kostoglotov, the semi-autobiographical character, changes his mind about some of these questions as his health changes along the way. Despite not offering answers from on high, it is still a deeply moral book.

More people should know about this book. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandrprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adrian, EsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bethell, NicholasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burg, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Раковый корпус носил и номер тринадцать.
On top of everything, the cancer wing was Number 13.
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Hoe we ook om wonderen lachen zolang we sterk en gezond en welvarend zijn: als het leven zo afgepaald en verkrampt wordt dat alleen een wonder ons kan redden, klampen we ons vast aan dit unieke uitzonderlijke wonder - en geloven erin!
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This work is the Cancer Ward, and should not be combined with
The Gulag Archipelago

The German edition "Krebsstation" was issued in two books and should not be combined with the single work listed.

The Finnish edition "Syöpäosasto" was issued in Keltainen Kirjasto in two volumes; the separate volumes should not be combined with the single work.
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