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Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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Cancer Ward (original 1968; edition 1991)

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nicholas Bethell (Translator), David F. Burg (Translator)

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2,757353,061 (4.07)152
Member:DakotaHollenbeck
Title:Cancer Ward
Authors:Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Other authors:Nicholas Bethell (Translator), David F. Burg (Translator)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1991), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:To read
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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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» See also 152 mentions

English (31)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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 |
The story takes place in the men's cancer ward of a hospital in a city in Soviet Central Asia. The patients in Ward 13 all suffer from cancer, but differ in age, personality, nationality, and social class (as if such a thing could be possible in the Soviet "classless" society!). We are first introduced to Pavel Rusanov, a Communist Party functionary, who enters the hospital because of a rapidly-growing neck tumor.
"The hard lump of his tumor--unexpected, meaningless and quite without use--had dragged him in like a fish on a hook and flung him onto this iron bed--a narrow, mean bed, with creaking springs and an apology for a mattress."(p 10)

Solzhenitzyn himself was released from a labor camp in early 1953, just before Stalin's death, and was exiled to a village in Kazakhstan. While incarcerated, he had been operated on for a tumor, but was not told the diagnosis. He subsequently developed a recurrence, received radiotherapy in Tashkent, and recovered.

The narrative places its focus on the central character of Oleg Kostoglotov, a young man who has recently been discharged from a penal camp and is now "eternally" exiled to this particular province. Only two weeks earlier, he was admitted to the ward in grave condition from an unspecified tumor, but he has responded rapidly to radiation therapy. Among the doctors are Zoya, a medical student; Vera Gangart, a young radiologist; and Lyudmila Dontsova, the chief of radiation therapy.

Rusanov and Kostoglotov respond to therapy and are eventually discharged; other patients remain in the ward, get worse, or are sent home to die. In the end Kostoglotov boards a train to the site of his "eternal" exile: "The long awaited happy life had come, it had come! But Oleg somehow did not recognize it."

In The Cancer Ward Solzhenitzyn transforms his own experiences into a multifaceted tale about Soviet society during the period of hope and liberalization after Stalin's death. While Cancer, of course, is an obvious metaphor for the totalitarian state there is also a penetrating look at mid-century Soviet medicine and medical ethics.
“But substantial X-ray treatment is impossible without transfusion!” “Then don’t give it! Why do you assume you have the right to decide for someone else? Don’t you agree it’s a terrifying right, one that rarely leads to good? You should be careful. No one’s entitled to it, not even doctors.” “But doctors are entitled to that right—doctors above all,” exclaimed Dontsova with deep conviction. By now she was really angry. “Without that right there’d be no such thing as medicine!”
Of course, the paternalism evident here (e.g. lack of truth-telling and informed consent) was also characteristic of medicine in other countries in the 1950's and remains an important concern in professional ethics.

The novel also explores the personal qualities and motivation of physicians, and the issue of intimate relationships between doctors and patients. The most incisive aspects of the book are its insight into human nature and the realism of its characters. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Mar 22, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (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.
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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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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)

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. They are seen 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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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