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Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Cancer Ward (original 1968; edition 2003)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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2,591322,306 (4.07)133
Title:Cancer Ward
Authors:Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Info:Vintage (2003), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:SMI - ZWI
Tags:Russia, read

Work details

Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1968)

  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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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
A lot of fun for a book about cancer, Russia, and war. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Aug 7, 2016 |
The book started well for me, and was far more interesting and easy to read than I expected it to be, however is it went along I struggled to maintain an interest in the characters. ( )
  Fluffyblue | Mar 5, 2016 |
A book I read in college. An eye opener. ( )
  Greymowser | Jan 22, 2016 |
The Cancer Ward follows a group of cancer patients in a hospital outside of Moscow as they undergo various intense and uncomfortable cancer treatments. The story takes place two years after the death of Stalin as Russians deal with the aftermath of the Stalin regime. The cancer ward is a microcosm symbolizing various elements of Russian society and politics. The protagonist Oleg Kostoglotov is an exile who spent years in prisoner camp. His experiences parallel the author’s experience since he also spent time in a labor camp and was treated for stomach cancer. On the surface, the book tells the story of the daily lives of a group of men being treated for cancer, but below the surface it is a scathing critique of Stalinism and Russians’ complicity into maintaining a corrupt and oppressive regime. But, the book is more than just a criticism, it is also a description of the difficult healing process facing Russians during de-Stalinization, thus despite its bleak moments, there are silver linings and optimism for the future. Solzhenitsyn tackles themes such as morality and ethics, socialism and communism, individual and collective responsibility, and human quest for meaning.

I loved this book. The writing was wonderful and the story was complex and thought provoking. Every element of the story can be interpreted as having special meaning (e.g., the location of the tumors, the types of characters, various objects, etc.). The writing was bold and compassionate. Some knowledge of Russian political history is a requirement in order to appreciate and understand this book, and those with more solid backgrounds into Russian politics will likely derive the most pleasure from reading this book. The book was a slow read for me as the material is quite dense and complex with regards to symbolism. Overall, a wonderful book and one that I would highly recommend.

Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don't you feel that?

Should a man, to preserve his life, pay everything that gives life colour, scent and excitement? Can one accept a life of digestion, respiration, muscular and brain activity - and nothing more? Become a walking blueprint? Is this not an exorbitant price? Is it not mockery?

One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.

“There’s no injustice there,’ he replied. His bass voice was measured and very persuasive. ‘On the contrary, it is justice in the highest degree. It’s the truest of all tests for a doctor to suffer from the disease he specializes in.”
( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
There's something sobering about this novel.

Weighing in at over 500 pages and easily the heaviest thing in my bag, Cancer Ward would seem to come to a definite conclusion, be it comforting or disturbing, by its denouement. But Solzhenitsyn offers nothing of the sort. Rather, we must revel in the beautiful ambiguity of this novel, and, in so doing, revel in the often frustrating, poignant, and somber ambiguity of life.

This novel is at once both a metaphorical critique of Soviet Russia as well as a touching story of numerous multi-faceted characters. From almost humorously heartless Rusanov, to young and lovable Dyomka, to our faithful protaganist Kostoglotov, there isn't much of humanity that Solzhenitsyn doesn't touch upon with his piercing thought. And touch he does: Solzhenitsyn set the novel in a Cancer Ward on the outskirts of the USSR in the mid-50's, and used this locale masterfully as a touching-point for his clear observations of both life and death.

Some men survive to see better times; many fates are left unknown; and, unavoidably, with a sick punch to my gut, a few men suffer throughout, never to live their lives with health and zeal again.

At points, the feel of decay in the Ward is tangible. Tomb-like, almost. As though there is nowhere for these varied men to go, nothing for them to hope for, their robust arms, stomachs, legs all wasting away to nothingness.

And yet, there is life to live. Kostoglotov realizes this and fights for his freedom with all that he has; he sneaks books, questions doctors, does all that a peasant man can do to try to take hold of his life once again. He struggles with the decision of whether or not to take a hormone treatment that will give him the gift of freedom for a few years--but at the expense of his virility. And he wonders: what is the price of a life? At what point do you cut the cord? Is freedom truly freedom if you cannot follow your passions?

Amidst these back-and-forth daily concerns is the overarching concern of Soviet society. The Cancer Ward is a microcosm for the USSR at large; it holds both party leaders and party exiles, camp guards and camp prisoners in its fleshy grip. Their cancers bring them down to the same level: human. And it is terrifying. Kostoglotov often considers the senseless cruelty that comes with life.... of cancer, of the Soviet party leaders, of average, normal human beings. He thinks of the monkey at the zoo that has been blinded by a man who threw tobacco at its eyes. And he learns that there will never be a respite from senseless, reasonless malice; it is the sober state of human nature that a single man can, at will, unwind all of your life and its promises and treasures.

Just like that.... ( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (28 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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374511993, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

'Cancer Ward' describes the lives of people condemned on health grounds to internment or death. It provides a psychological insight into the intensified experience of people under varying degrees of pressure and deprivation.

(summary from another edition)

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