One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Shukov is in "special camp". It's around 1950 in the Soviet Union. Shukov is a political prisoner because he was "spying" for the Germans in POW camp during World War II. The admission was beat out of him after he escaped from the German camp and turned himself back in to his own army. He was sentenced to ten years as a political prisoner. He is in the eighth year of his prison time. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is exactly that.
This barely fictional novel opens when Ivan "Shukov" gets out of his bunk. He can't get moving this morning. Normally he gets up a little early and is able to do one or two small jobs for others to earn a coin or two or an extra hundred grams of bread to get him through the day. He doesn't feel well, so he tries to go to the infirmary. But two people have already been admitted for the day. No one else with vague symptoms will be accepted.
Then one of the guards pulls him and "arrests" him. He is allowed to work off the "sentence" by washing the floor in the guards quarters. He almost misses breakfast - such as it is. He is able to save a little bread and hid it in his mattress before his team has to leave for their work assignment. It is mid winter. The high might get up to 30 below zero.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a book that it's easy to dismiss - until the reader remembers that the writer was telling what he saw and lived. Then the book takes on a completely different feel. It's chilling if the reader tries to pull in the experience. Yes, chilling is used in two contexts here - the physical cold of the day in the book and the mental chill Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gives the reader.
It's also easy to think "Oh, that was 60 years ago." Or "That was in Russia." Think about the news headlines from around the world. There are certain to be other camps of political or criminal prisoners enduring similar circumstances. The men are kept alive - barely. Their conditions are inhumane, but legal - barely. For a man to survive in Shukov's camp he has to be on his toes, looking for any edge he can get. Shukov doesn't think about the future when he will get out. He fully expects something to happen to extend his time. Now political prisoners are being sentenced to 25 years. Why should his ten hold true?
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich isn't a pleasure to read for escape. It can either be very powerful or can be overlooked because the reader doesn't try to live it.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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