Publisher: Novy Mir
Released: November 1, 1962
First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as "a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy"--Harrison Salisbury
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is the story of… well… one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, a political prisoner in a Russian labour camp. I think the most extraordinary thing about this book is how ordinary it seems. One would think that Ivan would be bitter. One would think that he would be (rightfully) complaining about the situation he is in. One would think that he would spend his time being angry about the hopeless circumstance he finds himself in. But he doesn’t, and he isn’t. Instead he has accepted and adapted to the situation. Prison is his life now, and its brutality and hopelessness has become the norm for him. A day can be good or bad depending on whether he manages to salvage some extra food or not. The monotonous daily routine has become a game in which the prisoners find ways of bending the rules in order to benefit themselves or their fellow inmates. The slave labour they are forced to do has become work Ivan takes pride in.
I really, really, liked this book. There is something about the way the story is told that makes it seem extremely realistic, and therefore very uncomfortable. It reads like a viable account of the thoughts going through the head of someone sitting in a Labour camp, and it is made all the more viable by the fact that the author himself spent almost 10 years in a labour camp. It ends on a somewhat surprising note. Not in a moralistic way, but with more of an open philosophical question. One that I have found myself thinking about more than once during the two weeks since I finished the book.
I strongly believe that this is a book everyone should read. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it can be read in a day, and it gives a unique insight into the mind-set and life of someone experiencing what millions of people have gone through. Go on. Read it.