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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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12,812197475 (4.03)512
Fiction. Literature. HTML:

One of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union, this is the story of labor camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov and his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of Communist oppression. Based on the author's own experience in the gulags, where he spent nearly a decade as punishment for making derogatory remarks against Stalin, the novel is an unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps.

.… (more)
  1. 70
    The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Volume One, Parts I-II) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (editfish)
    editfish: A novella exploring a typical day in the life of a 'slogger' in one of Stalin's prison (Destructive Labor) camps.
  2. 60
    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (BGP, chrisharpe)
  3. 40
    Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (chrisharpe)
  4. 30
    Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov (Eustrabirbeonne)
  5. 20
    If This Is a Man by Primo Levi (Eustrabirbeonne)
  6. 20
    Forest of the Gods by Balys Sruoga (satanburger)
    satanburger: the account of a man from the lithuanian intelligentsia who was imprisoned in a concentration camp by the nazis and kept there by the soviets. very dark humour.
  7. 10
    The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard: 1935-1936 by Ivan Chistyakov (meggyweg)
  8. 21
    If This Is a Man / The Truce by Primo Levi (hazzabamboo)
    hazzabamboo: Levi's memoir of Auschwitz is more 'literary', longer and bleaker, but both are gripping and extremely well written.
  9. 00
    Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number by Jacobo Timerman (eromsted)
  10. 00
    Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim (bks1953)
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Showing 1-5 of 185 (next | show all)
I ran across this slim novel while doing some book organizing and in light of Navalny's death, thought it would be a good time to finally read it. The 182 pages pack a powerful punch, and the book does exactly what it says on the tin - describes what it's like from when he wakes up to when he puts his head down after a long day of surviving in a Siberian hard-labor prison camp. I felt the cold, I felt the hunger, I felt the pleasure of a job well done after bricklaying, the pleasure of an extra serving of bread, the last smoke from the gift of a dying cigarette. ( )
  LisaMorr | Feb 22, 2024 |
What was life like for political prisoners in Stalin era Soviet labor camps? You could read a memoir and let a former prisoner tell you. Or you could read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and let Solzhenitsyn show you. Readers follow Ivan Denisovich Shukov through a typical day sometime in January from morning to evening roll call. Shukhov and his fellow prisoners exist in the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy, and it’s painful to experience even vicariously.

I’d like to think that the Soviet labor camps are a thing of the past and that what’s depicted in this book would not be possible in the 21st century. I’d like to think that, but human nature hasn’t really changed in the seventy-some years since Stalin’s death. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Jan 31, 2024 |
True danger that comes with human humiliation is not humiliation itself - this goes and passes - but changes done to human psyche after days, months and years of humiliation. And this is what we are shown here.

Interned into "special camp" for various reasons - majority, if not all, being sham in order to do political purge - we follow camp prisoners and our main protagonist Ivan Denisovich as they just try to go through the single "work" day.

Denisovich is not heavyweight political figure, he is ordinary man from the country that became inconvenience to the government (because he managed to escape alive from German POW camp) and was sentenced to max penalty because of this transgression. No reason whatsoever to put him in political special camp but he is placed there because he is seen as an enemy of the regime (whatever that means - Russia in this period was quite a schizophrenic society totally controlled by terror that could be turned against anyone in the second for any reason conceivable and once punished there is no rolling back the penalty - state is never wrong!).

Denisovich is sick, clothed in rags and forced to yet another mission impossible construction work in January in Northern reaches where temperature of -20 Celsius is treated as rather warm day. He needs to survive the guards (ever present bureaucrats with machine guns, that know only to count the prisoners 'til end of time, give them nebulous rules they know nobody normal can obey so they sadistically wait to punish disobedience - like that rule for moving stair at the time or there will be no food), other prisoners (outside his own close knit team) who are ready to dispose of him in order to gain upper ground (any advantage in this bleak place is a difference between life and death), doctors who are not doctors but yet another bureaucratic level that aims to crush the prisoners, civil contractors who treat prisoners as slave labor, and finally merciless nature of the far North where even summers are not friendly to any living thing, hungry and sleep-derived prisoners in particular.

Denisovich himself shows how easy it is to live on scraps, sleep very little and expect nothing but surviving the day (it is so sad to see how good he feels because he is hard working man, because he manages to do whatever it is put in front of him). Because after a while one accepts his fate and just blends in, does not expect anything better, there is no future just mythical end of sentence that they all conscientiously know will never come. But this makes prisoners go day after day until their inevitable demise.

Days old bread saved into bed under sawdust is treasure same as boiled water (where fish was just dipped into) is specialty, ability to sleep even few hours - after continuous counting and recounting by the guards in the night, programmed to break sleep - and ability to have one Sunday off in a month (even if it is again drudgery because guards need to maltreat prisoners) is a bloody holiday. Entire goal is to bring people to the very bottom, taking everything from them so that they decide to live in poverty of mind and body. Only viable option to get out of this sadistic situation is to end ones life (by suicide, trying to escape or fighting the guards) but lets be honest nobody will choose that - and this is where perversity of this mind messing shows its true colors. People decide to become prisoners willingly, bottom scrapers, only to live, does not matter how - their torturers know they wont live but enjoy giving them just enough hope for the sadistic pleasure of seeing people degrade themselves to survive and die without dignity.

One of the reviewers said that all horrors aside Danisovich's life is not that different from our current times working class (in terms of work hours, life-work balance etc. I do not think that anyone works under this type of control and torture).

I agree - I also have cases of mythical Sundays or longer sleeps - but there is a huge difference. People that are not caged in can change their life, leave abusive work, break the bad habits and gain control of their lives.

For prisoners (stationed in prisoner camps or those living under imposed prisoner way of life because of whatever reason, usually for the greater good) things do not go this way. So when you start feeling you are getting slowly imprisoned in your societies (and this never happens all of a sudden) and your liberties, and general ability to make life's choices are slowly but obviously fading away - it is time to stop, look around and see what is going on.

Excellent book. Dystopian to the core, but although fictional it is based on true events and as such needs to be taken as a warning. Only by observing the world around us we can become aware of dangers lurking in there and work on defeating them.

Highly recommended. ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
A great book when considered in context of where and when it was released. It lets you see into a world that was, at the time, barely known and only seen by those who were trapped in it. Definitely for people interested in history. ( )
  gregmeron | Dec 1, 2023 |
This is a low pick for me. It’s not that the story isn’t impactful, being autobiographical fiction about a day in a Russian prison camp in the 40s. It’s more so that the writing style made the story drag, even though it’s only 140 pages. Nonetheless, I do feel that this was intentional. After all, time must be experienced differently in a prison camp like this, especially when one expects exile at best upon release. In the end, strong stuff. ( )
  psalva | Oct 19, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 185 (next | show all)
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 (225 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Solzhenitsyn, Alexanderprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aitken, GillonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bayley, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harwood, RonaldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayward, MaxTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hingley, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalb, Marvin L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Korte, HansNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Labedz, LeopoldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lahtela, MarkkuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neizvestny, ErnstCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parker, RalphTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parker, RalphTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shonk, KatherineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shonk, KatherineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tvardovsky, AlexanderForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valiulina, SanaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Theun deAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Theun deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Willetts, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Willetts, Harry T.Translatorsecondary 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.
The raw material of life which serves as a basis for A. Solzhenitsyn's story is unusual in Soviet literature. (Foreword)
Bertolt Brecht once observed that a country which needs heroes is an unfortunate one. (Introduction)
You are fast asleep. (Afterword)
The dramatic story of the first Soviet publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has often been told. (Foreword)
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.
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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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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

One of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union, this is the story of labor camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov and his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of Communist oppression. Based on the author's own experience in the gulags, where he spent nearly a decade as punishment for making derogatory remarks against Stalin, the novel is an unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps.


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Secret mattress holes /
Trowel, mortar, checking string /
Salt pork bribery

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141184744, 0141045353

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An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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