Fiction — print. Translated from the Russian. Bantam, 1963. Originally published 1962. 203 pgs. Purchased.
This story follows Ivan Denisovich Shukhov through a course of a single day in his life as an inmate in a Soviet forced labor camp. An innocent man, Ivan was accused of becoming a spy after capture by the Germans as a prisoner of war during World War II and sentenced to the Siberian work camp as punishment by the government. The novel is one of the few criticisms of the Satlin regime published in Russia when first published in 1962, and this edition includes Solzhenitsyn’s infamous letter to his fellow authors against censorship in the country.
I will confess to having some trepidation when I started Solzhenitsyn’s novel during Hour 12 of the read-a-thon. Experience has taught me that Russian novels can be rather difficult reads requiring determination and a really good audiobook. I had neither of those thing for this particular book.
However, my concerns were put to rest after only a few pages and I ended up flying through the entire novel during the course of the read-a-thon. It’s a fantastic read; the simplistic scope very deceptive in nature. In a single day, Ivan introduces readers to nearly all the terrors found in a Soviet work camp and lays the foundation for the development of an interest of life in Stalinist Russia.
I thought the book would be rather pessimistic in nature. After all, who can be happy in a forced labor camp? But Ivan shows how simple victories (receiving a second ration, landing on the sick list) can mean life or death, happiness or sadness in a camp. Furthermore, I found the development of classes and a political system within the camp — both those created by the regime and those created by the inmates themselves — to be completely fascinating. The presentation in this novel is so complete that its obvious the novel is based upon on Solzhenitsyn’s personal experience in the camps.