One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Poor Ivan, what a day.

I can’t help but compare this book to The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz which is about an escape from a Gulag. Perhaps it is a Russian thing (?) but both books are powerful for the same reason; their understated, quiet, matter-of-fact tone.

I don’t know if an intense need to survive precipitates this but it would seem that in such extreme circumstances, lament was too luxurious or perhaps too dangerous to entertain. Tellingly, when Shukhov [Ivan Denisovich] sees his fellow prisoner, Fetyokuv walk into the barracks openly weeping after taking a beating his response is:

You couldn’t help feeling sorry for him if you thought about it. He’d never live out his time in the camp. He just didn’t know how to do things right.

The narratives are both very practical and factual but they stay with you, they penetrate in a way that “oh the bitter, bitter cold, oh my loneliness, oh the suffering..” never would. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has a simplicity that gets under your skin and sticks in your throat.

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