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Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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Cancer Ward (original 1968; edition 2003)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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2,511312,417 (4.07)126
Member:dylanwolf
Title:Cancer Ward
Authors:Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Info:Vintage (2003), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:SMI - ZWI
Rating:
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 Vishnevskai︠a︡ (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 28 (next | show all)
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 |
★★★★.5
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.

Quotes:
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 |
The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Translated from Russian by Rebecca Frank, The Dial Press, Inc. New York 1968

This is the second book by Solzhenitsyn that I have read. I really enjoy his writing. The first book I read was about life in the prison camp, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn was born in southern Russia in 1918. Communism had taken power. The author fought in WWII. Solzhenitsyn was arrested, stripped of rank and decorations for derogatory remarks about Stalin in letters that he had written. He was sentenced without trial to eight years of forced labor followed by exile. His first book, One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich came from his experience in a Siberian labor camp. He served four years of his eight years in a research institute manned by prisoners as a mathematician. This led to the second novel, The First Circle. I haven’t read it yet. In 1953, Solzhenitsyn was released from a labor camp and entered “eternal” exile on the edge of the desert in Kazakhstan. He taught school. While in the labor camp, the author was operated on for a tumor but not told the nature of his ailment. He suffered extreme pain and recurring illness. He was treated in Tashkent for cancer and he recovered. Out of this experience came this book.

The story takes place in a hospital in a place similar to Tashkent, 1955. Stalin died in 1953. After this there was amnesty for prisoners (only petty criminals). In 1955 there was a startling event. The old members of the Supreme Court were dismissed. De-Stalinization had begun. This event is part of this story. Some other themes include “sincerity in literature”, the tragedy of biology when biologists were purged, the expediters of the black market system, Another major theme is the women in Russia. Women did men’s work. Most of the country’s doctors were women. Russia had lost twenty million men in the war. There was a shortage of men. Women were doomed to loneliness. Vera, one of the doctors in the story, talks about this shortage and how the men that are available prefer to marry women much younger than their own cohorts.

I also enjoyed this story for the medical aspect. This looks at the early treatment of cancer and while it is not necessarily accurate, I think it did an excellent job of representing medical care in the fifties. The treatments were harsher than they are now (they still are harsh). Radiation was done until there was serious side effects and a necessity to stop. There is reference to herbal treatments; birth tree mushroom and issyk-kul root. A person with cancer will seek out these treatments because with the diagnosis of cancer, everything must be tried and people do feel safer with herbals and naturals even though their safety isn’t always anymore than the medicines. The hope and fears of the various men on the ward are accurately described. The characters are people from various nationalities and walks of life, The doctors are women and the nurse is studying to be a doctor. The orderly who cleans the ward is a woman, exile.

There were many great quotes and the author’s prose is wonderful. His descriptions bring the scenes to life.

“he was saying dangerous things, no only things one shouldn’t repeat to anyone, but things one shouldn’t even listen to.”

There is a great section on optimism. The Kadmins are exiled in the same place the main character is exiled. He describes their joy in life. They experienced joy in exile because in exile they could appreciate what you would not think to appreciate in plenty.

“It is not the standard of living that makes us happy, it is the way we feel, the way we look at life.”

“---man is always happy if he wants to be and no can stop him---”

“it took a misfortune for fresh air to blow into their life”

“--if we first cease to love animals, will we not cease to love people” (the significance of the Kadmins dog being shot by people in the village. The dog was like their children

“A man sprouts a tumor and dies--how, then, can a country live that has sprouted camps and exile?”

I rate this book; ★★★★★ ( )
  Kristelh | Aug 26, 2014 |
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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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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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