Tuesday, December 14, 2010

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

An insightful and disheartening, but not harrowing, description of one man’s day in a Russian prison camp (or Gulag as they came to be known). The book is not plot driven, nor about extensive personal reflections and shared introspections, but more of an exploration of the conditions of Ivan’s life, the conditions of the Gulag.
The reader comes to sympathize with Ivan’s plight, his near constant thoughts of food acquisition and avoidance of physical punishment. That said, the book is less depressing than anticipated because Ivan isn’t in agony. I imagine this could be due to a selection bias whereby the prisoners that have lasted 8 years have in some odd way, come to terms with the absurdity of their situation.  
Numerous passages were significant, but here are four that stood out:

“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold.” (p.23)

“Wonder of wonders! How time flew when you were working! That was something he’d often noticed. The days rolled by in the camp – they were over before you could say ‘knife’. But the years, they never rolled by: they never moved by a second.”  (p. 56)

“Does it bother you to wear a number? They don’t weigh anything, those numbers” (p. 60)

“He supped without bread… the bread would do for tomorrow. The belly is a rascal. It doesn’t remember how well you treated it yesterday, it’ll cry out for more tomorrow.”


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