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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Alexander Solzhenitsyn , Ralph Parker
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Nov 2000 Penguin Modern Classics

Bringing into harsh focus the daily struggle for existence in a Soviet gulag, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is translated by Ralph Parker in Penguin Modern Classics.

This brutal, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin shook Russia and shocked the world when it first appeared. Discover the importance of a piece of bread or an extra bowl of soup, the incredible luxury of a book, the ingenious possibilities of a nail, a piece of string or a single match in a world where survival is all. Here safety, warmth and food are the first objectives. Reading it, you enter a world of incarceration, brutality, hard manual labour and freezing cold - and participate in the struggle of men to survive both the terrible rigours of nature and the inhumanity of the system that defines their conditions of life.

Though twice-decorated for his service at the front during the Second World War, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was arrested in 1945 for making derogatory remarks about Stalin, and sent to a series of brutal Soviet labour camps in the Arctic Circle, where he remained for eight years. Released after Stalin's death, he worked as a teacher, publishing his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich with the approval of Nikita Khrushchev in 1962, to huge success. His 1967 novel Cancer Ward, as well as his magnum opus The Gulag Archipelago, were not as well-received by Soviet authorities, and not long after being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, Solzhenitsyn was deported from the USSR. In 1994, after twenty years in exile, Solzhenitsyn made his long-awaited return to Russia.

If you enjoyed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, you might also like Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, available in Penguin Classics.

'It is a blow struck for human freedom all over the world ... and it is gloriously readable'

Sunday Times

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) + Cancer Ward + The Gulag Archipelago [Abridged] (Harvill Press Editions)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (30 Nov 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141184744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141184746
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A masterpiece in the great Russian tradition. There have been many literary sensations since Stalin died. Doctor Zhivago apart, few of them can stand up in their own right as works of art. Ivan Denisovich is different" (Leonard Schapiro New Statesman)

"For much of the century that he came to dominate, he was simply Russia's greatest writer" (Guardian)

"Solzhenitsyn's little book on the Soviet camps, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, has just been reissued, in a much-improved translation by Harry Willetts. It remains a devastating book - a classical tragedy... Solzhenitsyn is a genius and a hero: Ivan Denisovich stands with Animal Farm." (Guardian) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

The authorised translation of the restored text of this shocking, heartbreaking Russian classic --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the best translation 17 Oct 2011
By Graham
I read this book, in this translation, when it was first published in English in the 1960s. It was the beginning of a life-long interest in Solzhentisyn. His work presents a formidable challenge to translators and sadly, this not the best translation available and I am surprised the Penguin are still publishing it. The translation by H. T Willets published by Harper (ISBN 0002716070) is vastly superior and is the only one that was approved of by Solzhenitisyn. If you don't read Russian and want to understand why Solzhenitsyn was so critically acclaimed a writer this version will not help much.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
First and foremost, this book conveys the barbarity of Stalin's concentration camps. By writing the novel from the perspective of an uncomplicated utilitarian, Solzhenitsyn's message is conveyed in a simple but extremely effective way. By drawing on his own experiences in such a camp, his account of this single day is both authoratative and compelling. Beyond that though, he makes numerous attacks on the state of Russian politics at the time and indeed on Russian society, which he weaves elegantly into the text. After reading this book one is left in no doubt as to the horror of a life in Siberia's camps, or to the author's personal opinion of the state of the land of his birth. In short, this is probably Solzhenitsyn's finest work, and as such must be read by all.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost a Happy Day 27 Feb 2009
Now that Alexander Solzhenitsyn is remembered as a formidable opponent of Communism and the Soviet system, it is strange to think that "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", which deals with the controversial subject of life in a Soviet labour camp, was first published (in November 1962) in an official literary magazine with the blessing of the Soviet authorities. Indeed, its publication is said to have been authorised by Nikita Khrushchev himself. Khrushchev's motives were, of course, self-interested. He saw the book as a useful tool in his campaign of de-Stalinisation, a campaign which served to justify his own rule and his disposing of rivals such as Lavrentiy Beria and Viktor Abakumov who had been more closely associated with Stalinist repression. (Khrushchev's own complicity in Stalin's crimes was, of course, airbrushed out of history). Nevertheless, the publication of the book was an unprecedented event; never before had so critical an account of Soviet rule, even Stalinist rule, been openly distributed.

The action of the book takes place on a single day in January 1951, a day seen through the eyes of the central character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is in the eighth year of a ten-year sentence. Shukhov's sentence was imposed after, as a soldier in World War II, he was captured by the Germans. Although he managed to escape and make his way back though the Soviet lines, he was accused of being a spy. The novel is autobiographical and reflects Solzhenitsyn's own experiences in the gulags after he was imprisoned for writing derogatory comments about Stalin in a private letter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Almost a happy day' 20 Nov 2011
Before Novy Mir published Solzhenitsyn's 47,000 word story, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in 1962, Soviet authors had only been allowed to refer to the labour camps of the Gulag, not actually write about them. Essentially a Stalinist phenomenon, the camps had finally been abolished a year or so earlier. Publication of the novella (after a degree of censorship) required the specific authorisation of Nikita Khrushchev.

The story reflects Solzhenitsyn's own experience as a political prisoner. He was sentenced for criticising Stalin in a private letter; his character Ivan Denisovich Shukhov for having the misfortune to spend a few wartime days in Nazi captivity before escaping and re-penetrating the Red Army lines. Shukhov was obliged to sign a confession that he had returned as a spy (better to sign than be shot, he reasoned) and sentenced to ten years, which he spent at first in a 'general' camp and then in the 'special' camp in which Solzhenitsyn details his day. Knowing prisoners who had been sentenced to one ten year term after another, Shukhov had no expectation of being allowed to return home when his sentence ended, but he hoped at least to gain the relative freedom of internal exile.

The day described is in winter, with an outdoor temperature of -27.5C. Nevertheless, the work battalions are formed-up as usual and marched to various work sites in a rapidly developing settlement. Shukhov's team is assigned to work on construction of a power station. Although not as favourable as the indoor work of the machine works, that is considered preferable to being sent to the Socialist Way of Life settlement, where there was neither shelter nor any source of heat.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and sobering reading 22 Aug 2009
By unlikely_heroine VINE VOICE
Solzhenitsyn's account of life in a Stalinist gulag is a must-read for anyone interested in modern Russian literature, Soviet history or quality, meaningful literature in general. This is a short (around 140 pages in this edition) but deeply affecting novel that charts one day in the existence of the inhabitant of a prison camp. This is not a book which contains dramatic events or shocking twists and turns, but rather it is a quiet, thoughtful study of struggling through misery and despair, and of the power of hope, survival and clinging on through the bleakest of moments.

Through every minor skirmish, battle and victory of Ivan Denisovich, the reader is willing this likeable character on. Though he has suffered tremendous ill-fortune, has been separated from his family for years and endures daily want, hardship and misery, Ivan Denisovich survives, endures and retains his humanity. In depicting one day in this man's life, Solzhenitsyn puts the Soviet post-war prison camps under the microscope. The power of this author's writing (and the quality of the translation) is such that the reader can feel as if they are in Ivan Denisovich's world with his uncomfortable bunk bed, his constant hunger and coldness through paltry food rations and freezing temperatures. Solzhenitsyn also shows the camaraderie and form of friendship that flourishes between prisoners despite everything they are put through and the delight and sense of victory that can be derived from an extra piece of dry hard bread or helping of lumpy porridge, or from the chance finding of a small discarded piece of metal in the snow.

The historical significance and insight of this novel, coupled with the powerful writing and perfectly-conveyed sense of place, mean that I have to give this work five out of five stars. It is highly readable and accessible and is a book to be thought about long after you have turned the final page.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Exactly as described, arrived on time
Published 2 days ago by Mrs m barkass-williamson
5.0 out of 5 stars Lest we forget
Essential reading for Useful Idiots.
Published 5 days ago by Robert
5.0 out of 5 stars I love a story with a lot of descriptive narrative
I love a story with a lot of descriptive narrative, and that is precisely what you get here. The title tells you exactly what you are going to experience, just one day in the life... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Seb
4.0 out of 5 stars Diary of a man in the Gulag
We read this for my Book Group. I was expecting something really depressing and heavy but in fact it was a really easy and accessible story. Just a man's diary. Read more
Published 11 days ago by fee
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I read this years ago and wanted to read it again, hence my purchase this time. Depressing but descriptive!
Published 13 days ago by Mr A Woodgate
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 22 days ago by KC
5.0 out of 5 stars Defining
Read it as a teenager, one of those books that have a defining impact on your beliefs and values. Re-reading in book club. Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. wharfe-king
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Well done book!
Published 1 month ago by janis
5.0 out of 5 stars book
Published 1 month ago by mrs carole a peters
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary. You better read it as a worning.
I am afraid that I would not be able to survive what those people went through without major depression and the total loss of believe in goodness of people. Read more
Published 1 month ago by pawelgonzalez
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