- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (30 Nov. 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141184744
- ISBN-13: 978-0141184746
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 0.9 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 247 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 30 Nov 2000
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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.
About the Author
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and its totalitarianism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system.
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Right now, Russia's politics is that of the classroom bully, so it is good to be reminded that behind that ugly façade are many passionate and sensitive people with a deep, important culture.
We see the best and the worst of both the inmates and their captors as Solzhenitsyn builds the tension inside and outside the prison walls. Dozens of characters come and go in the best Russian literary tradition and we are even given a portrait of an ailing Stalin, who virtually a prisoner himself from imagined and real assassins still manages to exert his demonic, criminal personality over petrified subordinates.
At times there is a surreal, odd feeling to the whole book as readers we pinch ourselves to believe that these horrors actually took place in a modern 20th Century society yet the author was speaking from the heart. As a former 'Zek'(prisoner) himself Solshenitsyn smashes us fully in the face with his tragic depiction of a visit by prisoner's wives and the arrest of a suspect and his degrading treatment at the hands of the secret-police.I found myself hoping for some light at the end of a long bleak tunnel but somehow knowing there would be none. This is brilliant, masterful writing in the finest Russian realist tradition, perhaps the author's finest work.
The story is set during Stalinist Russia in the special prison of Mavrino. It is a place where political prisoners with special skills, engineers, mathematicians, electricians etc. are sent to undertake special state projects. As such the regime is more lapse than the other notorious prisons in the USSR although the threat of being sent back to a labour camp still hangs above their heads should they do something wrong or fall out of favour.
However Solzhenitsyn is a clever writer, he sucks you into the story and then in the second half of the book when you are now familiar with the characters you begin to realise that the prisoners under their vindictive jailors, stifled with ever more draconian laws and with their families stigmatised and vulnerable can never win.
Sadly the book is as important now as it was when it was first published. As I read this, the Government are on the tele denouncing the European Court of Human rights and people are phoning the radio eager to add their voices to a cry to leave it. These people would do well to read either this book, Anne Frank or 1984; then they might realise what a precious thing Human Rights are and what can happen when we lose them.
You soon realise that you learn more from listening then from talking, i believe that it's a book that should be provided for all politicians .
Survival was about remaining inconspicuous, taking joy from whether you got a potato in your soup or not and making it to the end of the day. There is no polemicising about the injustice of it all. Just a matter of fact description of how prisoners managed to make life just a little more bearable where they could, under the discretion of guards both as much a prisoner as the inmates and still able to send someone to probable death in freezing solitary confinement.
It is the systematic, bureacratic, industrialised nature of this imprisonment that is the most chilling realisation when reading. There's no hatred for these prisoners. No ideological zeal in the camp guards. The guards are there because the prisoners must be guarded and the prisoners are there because... well, it doesn't matter.
This is what really happened to tens of millions of people and this book shows how the Russian people made it through Stalin's reign. Not by bombast and fearless defiance, but by quietly getting on with it in the hope tomorrow would be different.
The good day experienced by Shokov was actually a series of negatives. This didn't happen, that didn't happen.
This has been my first experience of Solzhenitsyn but I do think I would like to read more.
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