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"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian fiction writer and a Nobel Prize laureate, is the author of a marvelous piece of prose. It makes a reader fully absorbed and absolutely impressed by the authenticity of the story and the sincerity of its author. He knew that he would have been punished for writing it. The book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was written in 1962 and first published in the magazine Novy Mir. It was translated into English by Ralph Parker. Later, it was published in the U.S.A. by the Penguin Books USA Inc. and Victor Gollancz, Ltd. in Great Britain. Different editions have different translations and number of pages. This one is 158 pages long. Its introduction was written by Marvin L. Kalb; and a foreword – by Alexander Tvardovsky (Solzhenitsyn). Today, a free electronic version of the book is available for readers as well as its printed editions.

The book is very peculiar by an impact it usually makes on readers. It may seem rather doubtful that the description of one day of a Soviet labor camp convict can considerably change the one’s attitude to things. However, a randomly chosen day from the life in exile of Ivan Shukhov does have such an effect. The writer’s interpretation of the Soviet post-war reality introduces to readers all drawbacks of the Soviet system of power, the government and life, in general. It also depicts the absurdity of decisions on the human destiny this system had made.

The whole story is based on one day of the convict Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a protagonist. He has to wake up at 5 am in the morning. Staying longer in his bunk because of being ill, Shukhov gets punished. Ivan, as he tells later, had participated in the war. He was captured by German soldiers and, telling the truth to Soviet officers, was condemned to apenal servitude for 10 years. He was considered to be a spy. Describing everything around, the main character reminisces about the life he had had before the war in his native village with the wife and children. The life in the work camp reflects what is going to happen the next day, and the time he is released. However, he fears to think of something that distant as Ivan has to be there for another two years.  

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Then a breakfast time comes. As the protagonist says, these are another 10 minutes for the convict himself. Talking about hot skilly, Ivan Denisovich reveals the truth about horrible conditions that he and other convicts had to live in, being punished for a real deed, words, or even thoughts expressed or unexpressed. Freezing to death in taiga, people had to work hard, even though they had been hungry and ill. That skilly the protagonist dreams about is a source of life or, better to say, a survival. Telling the story about the life in the labor camp, Solzhenitsyn depicts a real hell on the Earth, created by a Soviet totalitarian regime. It is strange though that Shuhov sometimes turns out to feel happy there.

It is interesting how the author manages to describe so many types of people Ivan encounters in the camp and their interaction, collaboration, and coexistence in the same conditions. Surprisingly, Shukhov speaks about all of them without a distinct feeling of anger. He does not blame, but is more wondering about such a pace of things. The man reflects about those people being unable to get used to life in prison. He recalls also those who can eat double portions of porridge because of their rank. He wonders about the patient’s acceptance of everything and the spirit of rebellion that somehow lives together in the same barrack. Ivan feels sorry for the guards who have to freeze together with convicts. The prrotagonist is confused by the fact that such different personalities as an intelligent filmmaker wearing fashionable hats and a brutal criminal controlling the order in the dining room are able to survive in the camp together.

The most astonishing thing is that people manage to live in such places like the labor camp and feel happy from time to time. The day that Shukhov describes is a pretty good day, in his opinion. He has not been punished, eaten double portions of porridge, skilly and bread, and was doing a lot laying the bricks. He has managed to bring a piece of metal to make a knife, bought some tobacco, tasted cookies and even a slice of sausage. He did not fall ill, saved some bread for tomorrow, dried his valenki, and was not transferred to another working spot. He is also happy that eight years of his sentence have passed. He gets letters from his wife from time to time, and that the foreman always tries to do his best for their group. Finally, Shukhov thinks about this day one more time and says that another day of all 3,653 days he had to spend here has already ended.   

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich along with the other works by Solzhenitsyn is a great masterpiece that reveals the true reality of the Soviet regime. It shows why the system was doomed to break down. However, the book is even more noticeable for the ray of light and hope it gives to reader. The protagonist, along with other characters, is represented as a strong person that manages to survive and remain a human in the severest conditions and intolerable circumstances that can only be imagined. Although the book can be a bit hard to read due to specific Russian words and notions, it is still in the row of the best realistic novels ever written. Therefore, everyone will find something important, necessary and useful in it.

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