09 July 2009

46. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexander SolzhenitsynОдин день Ивана Денисовича

This has become one of my favorite books. It was a fascinating story and very well written. I understood and empathized with the characters. I could feel the frustrations and sadness within their souls. It made me want to reach out to them, despite their being fictional characters from a half century ago. Silly me.

The story is set in a Soviet prison camp (Gulag) in the 1950's. Ivan Denisovich Shukov is serving a 10 year sentence for being a German spy, which is a confession made to avoid his own execution. There are many men serving the same types of sentences.

This story is set in the Stalin era. The abuses of the Soviet people at that time were numerous. For one, the Ukrainian Holodomyr of the 1930's, is something I have learned quite a bit about.

This book is quite dramatic and is a testament to the abuses and repression perpetrated on the Soviet people by Stalin. This being the case, it is amazing that it was ever published within the Soviet Union. Why did that occur? Kruschev was in power at the time. He personally approved the publication of this story because he wanted to show the evils of the Stalin regime. He wanted the people to back his new government leaders (the politburo, etc). So, Kruschev allowed this story to be published in "Novy Mir" (New World), a Soviet literary magazine known to be progressive. The book includes a forward written by the editor of Novy Mir that warns the readers of the political volatility and the nature of what they were about to read. To us Americans, the story would be no big deal. To the Soviets, this type of story was unheard of.

The entire story takes place in one average day Ivan Denisovich spends in a prison camp somewhere in Siberia. This day is exactly like any other. There is nothing special on this day. That is what is so moving about the story. This exact same thing happens every day for ten years. There is nothing special. Just doing time and trying to survive each day as best you can.

The last few paragraphs of this book summed up the simplicity that takes over life when one is just trying to survive. I would imagine this is what it would be like to hope you can keep hope alive within your life.

"Shukov went to sleep fully content. He'd had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn't put him in the cells; they hadn't sent his squad to the settlement; he'd swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he'd built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he'd smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he'd earned favor from Tsezar that evening; he'd bought that tobacco. And he hadn't fallen ill. He'd got over it.
A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.
There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.
Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days.
The three extra days were for leap years."

Almost a HAPPY day? That is how far down the hole these men are. I felt sorrow for their daily plight and I truly felt like rejoicing at the smallest of "victories" during Ivan's day.

Read it!

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