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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling & thought provoking- Solzhenitsyn at his finest
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...
Published on 14 Feb 2001

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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the best translation
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...
Published on 17 Oct 2011 by Graham


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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the best translation, 17 Oct 2011
By 
Graham (Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling & thought provoking- Solzhenitsyn at his finest, 14 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and sobering reading, 22 Aug 2009
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This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost a Happy Day, 27 Feb 2009
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.

Shukhov is innocent of the accusations of espionage, but this does not really matter to the Soviet authorities as the purpose of the labour camps was less to punish the guilty than to deter the populace from uttering any criticisms of the regime and to act as a source of slave labour for Stalin's grandiose construction projects. The prisoners (known as "zeks" in Russian) are organised into squads of around 20 men each. (Shukhov's squad is the 104th). As an incentive to work, the zeks are fed according to how much work their squad accomplished the previous day, forcing them to work as hard as possible to survive. Any slackers will be pressurised into working by their fellow squad members.

On the day in question, the 104th are set to work building a power station, even though it is bitterly cold and the mortar used for bricklaying will freeze if not applied quickly enough. (Regulations state that the men will only be excused work if the temperature drops below -41°C). We get to know a number of Shukhov's fellow squad members, including the foreman Tyurin, respected by his men for his fairness and his skill in bargaining with the camp authorities, the deeply religious Alyosha who is supported by his faith, the shameless scrounger Fetyukov and Buinovsky, a former naval captain (imprisoned for accepting a gift from a British colleague) who finds it difficult to adapt to the camp after his previously privileged life. We also learn of the hardships faced by the zeks- the harshness of the weather, their inadequate clothing and equally inadequate food, consisting (unless they are lucky enough to receive parcels from home) of black bread, thin porridge and watery cabbage soup. They also face bullying from the guards, who are obsessive about enforcing petty regulations, although Solzhenitsyn does remind us that the guards are human too. Their attitude stems mainly from their own resentment at the hard conditions and at the harsh discipline imposed upon them. Should any of the zeks succeed in escaping, those guards deemed responsible will be forced to take their places in the camp.

The book ends with Ivan reflecting that he has had a good day. He hasn't fallen ill; he hasn't been sent to the punishment cells; he managed to obtain an extra bowl of porridge at dinner; he found a broken hacksaw blade which could serve him as a knife; his friend Tsezar received a parcel and shared some of its contents with him. "A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day". This passage is, of course, deeply ironic. If this day, with all its hardships, counts as a good day in Ivan's life, we are left to reflect on what a bad day must be like.

Even in the West this book was an influential one, forcing many people to reassess their view of Soviet Communism; to Russians in the sixties, trying to come to terms with the legacy of Stalinism it must have come as a shattering revelation. Solzhenitsyn never explicitly denounces the Communist system in the book; had he done so, the book would doubtless have been banned. He simply provides a description of what life in the gulag was like, but in the long run his stark, spare prose was to prove as damaging to the system as any amount of political rhetoric. It is hardly surprising that after Khrushchev's fall his successor Leonid Brezhnev did all he could to muzzle Solzhenitsyn, eventually expelling him from the Soviet Union.
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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
By 
Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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. At least at the power station it was necessary to have fires to thaw and dry sand, the partially constructed buildings afforded some shelter, and there was a makeshift canteen.

As the day goes by, Solzhenitsyn informs us of many of the permutations of a prisoner's life. Some achieve relatively cushy jobs, some manage to contrive small advantages for themselves, but it is made clear that the position of every single one of them is utterly unenviable. For most prisoners, the primary objective is to keep themselves alive, to survive their sentence and once again taste freedom. Striving to obtain and hold on to every gram of their food entitlement, and if possible a second helping or a morsel from another prisoner's food parcel, is paramount. It is important to keep out of trouble; ten days in the cells condemns a man to a shortened life of ill-health, fifteen days to the grave. It is also necessary to maintain good relations with key figures among one's fellow prisoners and to remain optimistic.

At the end of the day, Shukhov counts his blessings; he had not been put in the cells, his team had not been sent to work at the Socialist Way of Life settlement, he had several times obtained extra helpings of food, enjoyed his work building a wall, found and smuggled into camp a piece of a hacksaw blade that he would fashion into a cobbler's knife, and he hadn't fallen ill. 'Almost a happy day.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling, 3 Feb 2009
By 
Gannon (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
As some have said this is a book you can judge from its cover, or rather title. It details one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, in one of Stalin's labour camps in Siberia. We see the camp and daily life through the eyes of Denisovich a base individual driven base by necessity and instinct. The account of this single day is both simple and compelling.

There is a large element of allegory and allusion in the text which is well worked and wrought out of nothing but personal experience from the author and goes a long way to explain how contentious the book was and why is ws banned in the Soviet state,.

We are left in no doubt as to the horror of the camp and the general consensus of her 'guests'. The detail Solzhenitsyn provides always seems to be appropriate in terms of suitability in context and graphic enough to represent daily life and leave us accordingly appalled.

Fascinating reading wich should be read be all.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solzhenitsyn’s Bombshell, 17 Jan 2006
This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
‘One Day…’ is possibly the most important book published in post-Stalinist Russia. During the 1960s Kruschev was rapidly backing away from Stalin’s legacy (a period known as ‘the thaw’), and the Soviet authorities allowed the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s book to indicate a new openness about Stalinism. People who lived under Stalin were aware that many of their fellow citizens had been ‘disappeared’, but had no idea what had become of them. ‘One Day…’ was the first written account of the labour camps they were sent to.
The book follows Ivan Denisovich Shukhov through a single day in his life in a labour camp in a freezing winter. It is filled with the minute details about the day, the little things that make life bearable for a few hours. The picture it paints is of men hung out to dry by the state, sent to camps for non-existent crimes, brutalized by guards (and each other), freezing to death or slowly wasting away from malnutrition and overwork. Life in the camps is unfathomably hard, and it becomes clear that the men sent to them had been sent there by the state in the hope that they would never return.
The genius of ‘One Day…’ is that we start to realise that Ivan is having a good day, because he doesn’t fall foul of the guards, and actually scrounges a little extra soup. This make the book a fairly pleasant read, or at least not a relentlessly grim one, but at the back of the reader’s mind is the thought that, if this is a good day, I would hate to read about a bad one. Subsequently, ‘One Day…’ is a strangely upbeat book about a terrible, terrible place, making it an easy read while simultaneously ramming home the horror of the camps. It is deservedly recognised as a classic, both because of its historical importance and writing style, and should be read by anyone interested in great twentieth century writing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Get a big dose of perspective., 2 Jan 2010
By 
J. Davis - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This isn't a masterpiece of prose - it isn't meant to be.
This is a masterpiece of a story about the human condition, what it means to be human and what our humanity can withstand in the face of sustained relentless degradation.
Would you be able to withstand it? Would you become an Jackal too?
It also explores, uncomfortably at times, the methods and devices of tyranny and how ,done well, a subject population tyrannises its self, see Orwell's 1984 for more detailed ideas on that.

This easy to read (a character list helps), but never exciting, story is JUST ONE DAY in the life of Ivan and as Macbeth says "and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and to-mor-row ..." you get the idea.
If you think it tedious - Solzhenitsyn meant it to be so, otherwise how on earth could you really identify with the characters.
Its worth remembering that Solzhenitsyn was in a Gulag for 8 years so this book is not entirely a fiction - an advantage it has over Orwell's 1984.
Any one who slights this book for lack of entertainment value is beyond all help.
Personally I couldn't put it down, I found it heart breaking and humbling in a completely non sentimental way.
Racked with guilt and gratitude as I sat down to dinner that night, I savoured every mouthful; In bed that night, I never felt quite so warm and lucky.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The strength of the human spirit., 7 Jun 2009
By 
noc "noc" (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
A brilliant book. A description of the minutiae of one day of a long sentence in a labour camp being served for no apparent good reason. Solzhenitsyn crafts a fascinating portrayal of the human will to survive and social politics in miniature - how the surivivor remains constantly on the alert for any opportunity that might present itself, be it doing a favour for someone in the hope of a bit of tobacco or a few more grammes of bread, or spotting a small piece of metal that might make a handy knife if hidden successfully, a few woodchips picked off the ground that might make the hut stove burn a little brighter that night.

On the face of it there may not be much action but this is the point - they can take away a person's material comforts and much of their freedom but not their humanity, emotions and thoughts. The smallest events in a seemingly meagre existence can still evoke the strongest emotions - anger, sadness, elation, triumph. A wonderful testament to the strength of the human spirit and possibly the best book I have ever read.

Think of all of the people around the world surviving in difficult, lonely or cruel circumstances. This is a book that should be read by everyone. A tender book full of humane compassion.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Eyewitness Account of Life in Russian Labour Camps, 9 Aug 2003
By 
jacr100 "jacr100" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Solzhenitsyn’s first novel reconstructs a typical day during the ten-year sentence of an inmate in a forced labour camp during the Stalinist era. Although narrated from the perspective of a soldier falsely charged with being a German spy, the autobiographical implications are clear: Solzhenitsyn himself had been arrested for criticising Stalin in a letter, and consequently spent eight years doing hard labour in three different camps. The third and final term of his imprisonment was spent in a camp for political prisoners in Kazakhstan, and it is generally considered that this is the setting for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The book created a literary sensation, thanks to its being one of the first works of the post-Stalin age to convey to an international readership the experience of political imprisonment and repression under the ancien régime; moreover, its direct and unimpassioned style made it a worthy newcomer to the Russian canon, preoccupied with realism and social representation.
Perhaps the most insightful aspect of this novel is the way it charts the change of an inmate’s mentality and personality as he begins to adapt to the rigours of his new existence – a necessary adaptation, since those who pine for their former lives in the outside world, and its normalcies (like Fetyukov) will not last their sentence. Shukhov (Denisovich) is a case in point: he understands that one can only survive by ingratiating oneself in the system of reciprocity that exists among the prisoners; a world where you constantly scratch other peoples’ backs in the hope that they will generally scratch yours in return. He also understands when to be humble (in front of the camp authorities or the gang leader) and when to be aggressive (in the food hall, or when labouring). Crucially he has come to realise that survival under such inhuman conditions hangs on a ‘blanking out’ of reality or notions of justice. Keeping his boots in good condition, avoiding the cells, beatings and the worst jobs, getting himself extra portions of food – these are the minor ‘victories’ by which, if achieved, he is able to convince himself that he has had a good day. Denisovich opines that a prisoner must get everything he can from his free moments – early in the morning, at the end of the day, and during the very brief pauses for meals. These moments of liberty become sacred, the days are manageable because one is constantly aware of working towards them. Thus a bowl of soup is to the starved and oppressed inmates ‘more precious to them than freedom, more precious than their previous life and the life that the future held for them.’ Yet at the same time, the constant roll calls, searches and fear of punishment pervade the inmate’s mind, creating an unceasing paranoia that is perhaps the most terrifying ordeal of his camp existence, since it robs him of freedom even in his free moments:

‘Even the thoughts of a prisoner are not free, always returning to the same thing, the individual turning it over in his mind again and again: would they find that piece of bread in his mattress?’
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a compelling, incisive account of an existence that might now seem inconceivable to us, so far from our notions of human rights and individual freedom of choice. As such it is a vitally important means of not forgetting the many appalling labour and concentration camps that crossed the face of Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. There are aspects of the book I did not like – it seemed to lack a literary style at times, and could be slow-paced and tedious in parts (although this is perhaps not inappropriate given the setting), but it unquestionably still merits reading, being both a seminal account of an inglorious chapter in Russian history and a psychological investigation of how one could best survive such circumstances – a testament to the resistance of man stripped of his freedom.
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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Paperback - 30 Nov 2000)
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