In the First Circle

By Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
seth galyean
This story covers one "ordinary" day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, charged with treason by Stalin during WWII and sentenced to 10 yr. in a Siberian concentration camp, and is not very unlike the experience of the author.
The book is heralded as being the first in the Soviet Union to expose the widespread imprisonment of the Russian people during Stalin's reign that were arrested, often for nothing greater than a careless remark about Stalin. Almost every Russian family was said to have some relative that served time in the crowded labor camps. The cruelty and injustice, the fear of speaking even to one's neighbor for fear of being misquoted or "tattled on , created a society that caused people to be paranoid of each other and frightened for their freedom every day, in addition to the extreme poverty and profound hardships suffered during the war.
The story is extremely bleak & dreary, as was life in the camps. Ivan's day covers a lot of forming lines to be counted, marching to and from work detail, with a large percentage of the pages devoted to that work: hauling the blocks, lifting, mortaring, finding tools and supplies, etc. But then, that was what his day was. As bad as the work was in the bitter cold and wind, what seemed just as bad was the way a man had to learn to live by his wits in order to survive whether from fellow prisoners or get an ounce of extra bread, tobacco, to keep his food or a rag of clothing from being stolen from him, and every other minute detail of daily life we live without even being aware of it. It was survival of the fittest, man's inhumanity to man.
I can't say I enjoyed this read, but it certainly hits home the brutality and hopelessness of the lives of the people of Russia unlucky enough to find themselves in a labor camp under Stalin's rule.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anna hiller
I don't know how I made it this long without reading Solzhenitsyn. Somehow. Earlier this year a good friend pointed me to his Nobel prize speech, which is well worth reading. That same friend then lent me this book, which I finally got around to reading. In summary this book is one day in the life of a man sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp.

The book opens as Ivan wakes up and, being slower than normal, is called forward by a guard to receive his punishment. Ivan experiences a minor victory in that his punishment is merely to mop the guardroom floor. Barely 10 pages into the book and the (no doubt realistic) picture Solzhenitsyn paints of a Siberian labor camp is bleak. No matter how Ivan felt, I was struck again and again by just how terrible this all was. His victories were small highlights which lit the extent of tragedy to my eyes.. As I neared the end of the book and Ivan worked his way into receiving a second bowl of 'soup,' a final victory for his day, I rejoiced with him. Think about the transition I, as the reader, went through in those 140 pages. That is the skill and quality of Solzhenitsyn's writing.

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Highly recommended. Well worth your time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kirsten rewey
After learning of the recent death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn I decided to read one of his books. I had never read any of his works and I knew I should acquaint myself with this man's oeuvre.

The book contains Solzhenitsyn's 1967 letter to the Fourth National Congress of Soviet Writers beseeching the organization to protect the works and the lives of promising writers. Upon reading this document the reader will realize that Mr. Solzhenitsyn was truly committed to his art and his literary compatriots.

The book begins with the line "Reveille was sounded, as always, at 5 A.M.--a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp." And from there Solzhenitsyn describes the onerous and hellish conditions of the camp and daily routine of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. It is clear that Solzhenitsyn used his own experience in a work camp (8 years) as the template for this novel.

Solzhenitsyn not only shows us how harrowing, corrupt and depressing the camp is, but through Denisovith allows us to see some of the charachters who make up the 'community' from the Captain to Kilgas, Caesar, Klevshin, Alyoshka, and Fetyukov. With the exception of Der and Clubfoot, the people in command remain nameless and for me, this really made the hopelessness of the setting resound. While we experience the camp and the interactions between gang bosses and prisoners through the eyes of Denisovith, Solzhenitsyn slips once in a while and reveals his personal distate for a certain practice or individual. Given what he went through in the camp, you can't blame him.

I finished this book in three days and I found it very absorbing. While I enjoyed 1984 and Brave New World, this book really captured the desperation, dread, futility and hope of such a restricted existence.

For any reader unfamiliar with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, I recommend this book as a starter. You won't be disappointed!
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★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nate lahy
A central twentieth century Russian literary work, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is significant for many reasons. It is best known as a highly autobiographical novel exposing the Soviet Union's infamous gulags and is certainly noteworthy in this way. However, it is also excellent in itself, a gripping, highly moving story of determination, endurance, and in the end, hope. Anyone at all interested in twentieth century Russian literature or history must read it.

The historical angle is such that the book would be well worth reading for it alone. Before One Day, gulags were hardly even publicly admitted; having its horrors given in such detail was astonishing, one of the most dramatic examples of the Soviet Union's anti-Stalin program. To put this in perspective, it is necessary to remember that Boris Pasternak, whose Doctor Zhivago criticized Soviet tactics less openly, had to refuse the Nobel Prize only four years before to avoid scandal after the Soviets told the Nobel committee not to award him. This would of course be a mere historical footnote if One Day had no other value, but it does even in this sense. Years after gulags - and even the Soviet Union itself -- are gone, it is an invaluable, practically first-person account of the important phenomenon. Anyone wanting to know about gulags would do well to start here; it introduced them to the world and arguably remains the best source.

Noteworthy as this is, the literary merit is at least as great. Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells a remarkable story in straight-forward, admirably concise prose that cuts to the proverbial core; his story is so immediate that he has no time for verbal trappings. This is to the book's benefit, as the story more than stands on its own -- an utterly engrossing, distinctly modern drama of humanity's inhumanity. We identify with the title hero's trials and sufferings, which are detailed in a vividly visceral way that makes them unforgettable. Yet this is not a work of despair. Dark as it is at times, especially considering its nearly autobiographical nature, it is ultimately a triumph of the human spirit. It shows, as few works can, just how much a person can survive. We do not see Ivan leave the camp, but we know Solzhenitsyn did, which means much. Despite all, the book thus leaves us with hope.

Few twentieth century Russian works can be more essential, but it is important to remember that this is very different from nineteenth century Russian masterpieces. It is short and sticks firmly to the bare subject, lacking the long, philosophical digressions so characteristic of those works. Anyone expecting an update of them will be disappointed, but One Day in many ways strongly resembles them in spirit. The seemingly paradoxical Russian soul -- partly overflowing with goodness, even self-sacrificing saintliness, partly crowded with darkness leading to oppression -- is on prominent display here as there, as is profound psychological insight. Fans of those great works may find much to like, and those who usually dislike Russian literature are at least as likely to appreciate the book. One Day is that rare work that probes deeply yet still has wide appeal, which is high praise indeed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jamie gavitt
This publisher's marketing machine (as in an Oct., 2009 Wall Street Journal article by the author of this book's foreward) claims "In the First Circle" is now "finally available in the West". Not exactly. The same text as "In the First Circle" was published in France in 2007 as "Le Premier Cercle".

More importantly, the publishers claim that the previous English version of "The First Circle" was "bowdlerized", not "authentic" and by implication, polluted by Solzhenitsyn's revisions when he attempted to get the book published in the Soviet Union. This is very misleading.

Solzhenitsyn prepared two versions of this novel while writing in Russia in the 1960s. The version now called "In the First Circle", just published in English, was 9 short chapters longer and had a different opening plot line from "The First Circle", which he edited to 87 chapters and unsuccessfully attempted to publish in the Soviet Union.

In that editing, Solzhenitsyn, genius that he was, crafted a far more powerful opening. That's the major difference between the two versions of the novel.

"In the First Circle" (the newly published version) has a young Soviet diplomat, Innokenty Volodin, call the US Embassy in Moscow to warn about a Soviet spy operation in New York related to nuclear military secrets. As such, Innokenty is a 1 in 100 million superman hero (or traitorous villain) who cannot represent ordinary people that lack the ability or the opportunity for such an act.

In "The First Circle" (already available in English), the same Innokenty also makes a covert call, but to a Russian scientist who as a medical doctor, had earlier treated Innokenty's mother, to warn him against sending some promised scientific samples to colleagues in France, because that act would be considered traitorous and get the scientist arrested.

Even that simple warning call was enough to cause the hunting and arrest of Innokenty himself. With this simple opening story, Solzhenitsyn shows how an ordinary man who acts out of basic humanity gets entrapped by the vicious Soviet political environment. This gets us, readers, deeply engaged because we can easily identify with Innokenty's feelings and his action. And because we sympathize with an ordinary person who becomes entangled through such a normal act, it's deeply credible and far more powerful than the extreme scenario of "In the First Circle".

Therefore, "The First Circle" is the true masterpiece version of this novel.

This is an unforgettable story about "conditions where only courage, strength of character, and loyalty to friends made a man and could decide the fate of a comrade." ("The First Circle", Ch. 61.)

Take a look at "The First Circle", the original, and decide for yourself. Regrettably, this masterpiece is out of print in English, but copies of the great translation by Michael Guybon are available inexpensively at used book websites.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anto ia lewis
As you read this slim novel, you keep shaking your head about man's inhumanity towards his fellow man. You wonder how a political system could be set up in which people are sent off to live under near-impossible conditions for decades, and why other people acquiesced to the insanity. Even though we know today that the Soviet system collapsed, we also know that Russia has penal colonies and prisons that are filled with innocents who are living scarcely better than Ivan Denisovich Sukhov does in the book.

The blunt language of Alexander Solzhenitsyn brings out the utter barrenness of existence in a Siberian labor camp. As other reviewers have said, you actually find yourself shivering as you read about ill-clothed men standing for an hour in minus-20 degree weather, waiting to be frisked by prison guards. You mind reels at the thought that a bowl of thin gruel, gulped down in less than 5 minutes, is so great of a luxury that it feels to these men as if time has stopped. You try to imagine being sent to live in those conditions for 10 years or more, and you come away feeling that you would lose all hope. How could you do otherwise?

It's a remarkable book. By showing the typical day in a prison camp -- in fact, a day that Ivan Denisovich considers "good" because he got an extra ration of soup and bread and avoided getting in trouble for anything -- you see the Soviet system in all its brutality. And you see how people tried to maintain their dignity and hope in the face of oppression on an industrial scale. While the system is inhuman, the people remain humans, as they try to survive on hope, pride, and ingenuity.

There's a reason that high schoolers were assigned this book 20 years ago, and there's still good reason to have young people (and older people) read it. The book is a warning about the depths to which a political system and social system can descend.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Written from the perspective of a common prisoner, laboring in a Soviet camp, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is the semi-authobiographical novel of former political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It is a simple novel, telling the story of Ivan Denisovich, imprisoned in the Gulag for crimes comitted while serving in the Russian Army during WWII. It takes place over the course of a single day, from reveille to retreat. The protagonist spends his day in hard labor, in this instance he and his squad are building a power station, construction on which had been abandoned six months previous. His day begins in misery, cold, and sickness, yet somehow Denisovich manages to end his day, and the novel with a note of hapiness, even hopefulness.

However this book is about so much more than just what Ivan's day to day life is like; it is a political statement. It is a look at the cruelty and oppression of the Soviet regime under Stalin, when a man could be imprisoned for just about any action, real or imagined. Denisovich was imprisoned for supossed desertion (in actuality he had been held as a German POW and escaped) while serving in the Soviet Army during WWII. Another character, Aloyshka - a dedicated Baptist, was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. Tiurin, squad captain, was imprisoned despite his impressive military record, for his birth. Solzhenitsyn, himself, was imprisoned for supossed derogatory remarks regarding Stalin.

It was suprisingly published in 1962, despite the rampanent censorship of the Soviet era, after gaining the approval of Kruschev while having one of his "anti-Stalin" days. It was later banned in Russia and Solzhenitsyn expelled after the ouster of Khrushchev, yet elsewhere the novel was so important and widely regarded that it's author received the Nobel Prize.

The novel itself is short, my edition only 139 pages, and the writing style spare, almost simplistic. However I feel this to be a reflection of the experience it is telling. One living in Stalin workcamp isn't going to have the time or energy for superflous words or emotion. Solzhenitsyn's austere style only served to emphasize the horror of the topic, and made it that much more powerful. The labor camps of Stalinist Russia rank right up there with Hitler's Death Camps as one of humanity's darkest moments. In a way that no history text could, Solzhenitsyn and One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich shed light on events that should horrify and sicken anyone. This is one novel that should be required reading in any history of the world.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
After "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", this is Solzhenitsyn's greatest novel.

Solzhenitsyn originally thought he might be able to publish "In the First Circle" in the Soviet Union, and so "lightened" it, removing some of the more "objectionable" material, including nine full chapters. All excisions are restored for the first time in English in this new edition.

Told in Solzhenitsyn's compelling polyphonic style, the novel recreates the surreal, morally charged world of the sharashka--a secret institute within the Gulag system where scientists were assigned research tasks by those who locked them up in this "first circle of hell." Yet Solzhenitsyn also conveys the hyper-paranoid world of the Soviet apparatchiki, and offers what may be the most vivid portrait of Stalin anywhere in literature.

The central moral issue of the novel is whether to collaborate with a regime if this might enable the oppression of other innocents, or whether one should instead hold true to one's principles. The protagonists are tasked with identifying a traitor from only a tape recording, knowing that success in their research will condemn the man; if, however, they choose not to cooperate, they will be shipped off to a brutally severe labor camp.

There is no preachiness here. This is a gripping novel in the best traditions of Russian realism, not one of the Nobel laureate's strident political statements. Masterfully translated by Harry T. Willets, it is rich with memorable characters, finely crafted episodes and beautiful language. In fact, the use and misuse of language is a central theme in the novel, juxtaposing the truthful, spare language of the inmates with the diarrheal nonsense of the corrupt regime.

As reviewed in Russian Life
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rameen altaf
A mathematics professor pointedly declared to the Dean of Liberal Arts at the local university that her literature courses should be dumped because fiction is just made up stuff. Tell that to Alexandre Solzhenitsyn. Tell that to Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.

"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a searing FICTIONAL indictment of Stalin's Soviet Union during the early days of communism. Shukhov was sentenced to ten years in a Siberian work camp for spying for the Germans, when in reality he was an escaped prisoner of war. Solzhenitsyn himself spent ten years in a similar situation for writing criticisms of Stalin in a letter.

As a high school English teacher, I assigned this novel for reading and discussion. One particular girl took her reading seriously and tried an experiment. For the duration of the reading, she did not bathe and ate only soup and bread, the point being to match--sort of--that one day in Ivan's life in the gulag. It was an experience she will never forget.

Life, broken and twisted, limped on in the camps. Even guards lived just a level above the prisoners. From waking up with one-inch frost on the windows--on the inside--to putting his feet in the sleeve of his jacket and his head on a pillow containing shaved wood at night, Shukhov found life anything but good. But Ivan had learned to make a satisfactory life--given his circumstances. After all, his sentence was ten years, while many others had 25 years.

Although readers justifiably focus on the horrors of the camp--subsistent food of thin soup and rationed bread, freezing temperatures outside and inside, a strictly controlled life for eighteen hours of the day, Solzhenitsyn also shows how one man, just an ordinary man, can survive.

The story, of course, does reveal the barren conditions of a Siberian camp, but it also exemplifies what Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "Man will not only endure: he will prevail." When Shukhov works hard and feels pride in his work, when he finds a bit of hacksaw blade and smuggles it back into camp, when he is rewarded with a bite of sausage from the captain's goody box from home, he has not only conquered his circumstances, he has prevailed. It was a good day.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn also was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. These two sentences from his acceptance speech are directed--pointedly--at that mathematics professor: "Some things lead beyond words. Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience."
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
aimee lafave
Not one of Solzhenitsyn's best works. The first problem on the store is that reviews for "August 1914" are conflated with those for "One Day in the Life..." Speaking of "August 1914," it began well, but I couldn't finish it. Somewhere along the road the story got mired in its words and lost its way.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marcella curry
Away from commissars in the candle's light we read samizdats pages of this Great Humanist writer with hope to get into hands few more typewriten following pages (in 1960's) and now.......few decades later, few time zones west we are back to candle's light in regard of Solzhenitsyn's work.
This is mine inquiry to the book distributors and medium: Dear friends!
I am very thankful for your's services, which I appreciate, it is completely new age of access to information, communication ....& You are part of this corporate chain.
I would like to ask You about corporate abuse, conspiracy, censorship (Thought Police) in regard of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's books "Two hundred years together" still not published in English (lingua franca) after more then 10 years. Solzhenitsyn and his books including "200 years together" should be part of educational curriculum pointing to man who stand-up to the evils of totalitarian oppression,.....and opening window to those events.
Commissars of Thought Police in the forefather's footsteps as in early years of last century Great Russia regions are mostly giving literary reviews to the contemporary goyims, as the historians, professors in higher learning. With Solzhenitsyn's publication it is in conflict with there's interpretation of some events, as documented in Wikipedia. Behind accusation of "anti semitism" they are imposing their supreme judge newspeak correctness via ownership of media. Solzhenitsyn's "200 years together" is not on book shells of "free press" distributors. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote not because of Nobel Price, but as human being who stand-up to the evils of totalitarian oppression with their Gulags and Thought Police.These western commissars at the time of Cold War priced Solzhenitsyn's bravery, admired underground samizdats of forbidden literature and smuggling Bibles and other books into USSR.
But now, because of Solzhenitnyn's "200 years together" they missed to burn him as Jan Hus was in 1415; maybe they will unearth his bones and burn as heretic,with ashes into Jordan river-Death Sea(thoughts), it was done with John Wycliffe's bones in 1428;...... or just burn books as the 7th Century BC when Jehoiakim, King of Judah, burned part of the prophet Jeremiah's scroll, (Jeremiah 36). To the present day, the burning of books has a long history as a tool wielded by authorities in efforts to suppress dissenting or heretical views that are perceived as posing a threat tothe prevailing commissars of Thought Police.
But better ways is even not to allow to be this heretical book published...plebeians don't deserve it. As was done in Chinese and Moslem world for several centuries without Gutenberg's modern printing press.No press,no heretical prints to censor.
Zealous "Newspeak" tribe gained English publishing rights for the purpose to actually
completely block globally printing of Solzhenitsyn's books.
Maybe we should ask Mr.Putin to samizdat Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "200 years together" in English and underground smuggling into "free press" our world.This is "free press" witch is lecturing others all over the world. In these case, will You provide space on book shells for these smuggled Mr.Putins English samizdats? Please I would like to have one.
You know,....... there should be room for two more books on the shells of "free press" distributors, when You offering selection of thousands, or are we really free from this new correctness, or in Dark Age under totalitarian Thought Police?
Because You are part of this information chain (corporation), are You involve in this conspiracy ?
I hope, You are not hiding behind the screens of new correctness as "human rights, women rights, gay rights, anti-semitism,....." with black list, white list of forbidden literature, which can corrupt plebeian's mind.
We, as human being are different, we have different opinions, different goals,....just look at election of any developed country. I believe there are people who don't like interpretation of contents in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "200 years together" books, I would not argue, but facts are facts in some events.
Taboo discourse addressed by Solzhenitsyn's books was well documented in the writings of 1920's, 30's,....(as Winston Churchill)..but it was pronounced as anti-semite, lunatic and sealed in "Taboo box" by these historians, professors of higher learning commissars, it did not fit in theirs interpretation of "Official History".Now, we entered with English non publication of Solzhenitsyn's books into another stage of "Pandora Taboo Box" to be kept closed.
P.S. I red 50-70% of this book in Czech PDF ,but I would like have English edition of books. Czech books are not available and reediting got into International Tribe of Thought Police death hole. What coincidence ?
I admire Alexander Solzhenitsyn for his bravery,spirit, stand for free thought.

Thank You. To keep Alexander Solzhenitsyn's spirit alive!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Having just finished A People's Tragedy, the excellent nonfiction history of the Russian Revolution, I decided to read this fictional account of Russia's stumbling incursion into World War I, a misadventure that in no small way helped precipitate the collapse of the empire. As titled, this novel recounts the events of the fateful month of August, 1914, when Russia rushed unprepared into war against Germany.

With this novel, Solzhenitsyn intended to begin an epic project spanning the entire period--a project he never completed. So, as he warns, this novel is not "complete" in the usual sense; still, it's an epic in its own right. Part *War and Peace*, part *Naked and the Dead*, mixed with the absurdities of war worthy of *Catch 22,* Solzhenitsyn's novel presents a panoramic view of Russia in August 1914 through a wide range of well-drawn characters--both civilian and military, heroes and cowards. And smoldering ominously in the background are the issues that will soon erupt into the revolution that will tear the nation apart.

Solzhenitsyn gives it all a fair hearing. There are just as many examples of human nobility and sacrifice as there are of self-serving human treachery. This is what makes Solzhenitsyn such rewarding reading. He doesn't oversimplify. There isn't a black and white. But always he stands for the individual. In his view, as in Voltaire's, the most any one man can do is to tend his own garden. To act in the right way at the right time, with honesty and honor. One cannot save nations or peoples, but one can save oneself and the person standing right beside you.

*August, 1914* is a wonderful novel full of passion and spirit, protest and poetry. It ridicules and denounces with heartfelt indignation the stupidity of war and the incompetence and greed of those who all-too-often wage it. There may indeed be some things worth fighting for; unfortunately, most wars arent fought for those things.

And while *August, 1914* is an important book, an historical novel with big ideas, it's also very readable, filled with adventure and life-and-death drama featuring characters you'll really root for...or despise. A worthy successor to his great Russian forbears, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn has created a masterpiece of war literature with this unforgettable novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kathleen messmer
Almost novella in length, this story grinds its way through a single day in one man's life. The writing is understated and frank, often almost as if a journalist with a flair for language were firmly reporting of tough circumstances. And then with a gunshot of sudden literary brilliance the author closes the story with likely the best last line ever written.

To be sure you are purchasing this last line. There is nothing I can think of in my forty years of reading which would prepare me for the electrocution of Solzhenitsyn's final message. This is the novel which prepares one for the enormous journey through Cancer Ward for example. This is the little gem which any author (and by all accounts every author wishes he or she could produce such a brilliant book) of note has already commented on ad nauseum.

You will buy this book and it will stand on your bookshelf next to Hesse and Camus, Hemingway and Steinbeck, and you will be thankful foerver for having digested this masterpiece.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
philip keymer
Now that Alexander Solzhenitsyn is remembered as a formidable opponent of Communism and the Soviet system, it is strange to think that "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", which deals with the controversial subject of life in a Soviet labour camp, was first published (in November 1962) in an official literary magazine with the blessing of the Soviet authorities. Indeed, its publication is said to have been authorised by Nikita Khrushchev himself. Khrushchev's motives were, of course, self-interested. He saw the book as a useful tool in his campaign of de-Stalinisation, a campaign which served to justify his own rule and his disposing of rivals such as Lavrentiy Beria and Viktor Abakumov who had been more closely associated with Stalinist repression. (Khrushchev's own complicity in Stalin's crimes was, of course, airbrushed out of history). Nevertheless, the publication of the book was an unprecedented event; never before had so critical an account of Soviet rule, even Stalinist rule, been openly distributed.

The action of the book takes place on a single day in January 1951, a day seen through the eyes of the central character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is in the eighth year of a ten-year sentence. Shukhov's sentence was imposed after, as a soldier in World War II, he was captured by the Germans. Although he managed to escape and make his way back though the Soviet lines, he was accused of being a spy. The novel is autobiographical and reflects Solzhenitsyn's own experiences in the gulags after he was imprisoned for writing derogatory comments about Stalin in a private letter.

Shukhov is innocent of the accusations of espionage, but this does not really matter to the Soviet authorities as the purpose of the labour camps was less to punish the guilty than to deter the populace from uttering any criticisms of the regime and to act as a source of slave labour for Stalin's grandiose construction projects. The prisoners (known as "zeks" in Russian) are organised into squads of around 20 men each. (Shukhov's squad is the 104th). As an incentive to work, the zeks are fed according to how much work their squad accomplished the previous day, forcing them to work as hard as possible to survive. Any slackers will be pressurised into working by their fellow squad members.

On the day in question, the 104th are set to work building a power station, even though it is bitterly cold and the mortar used for bricklaying will freeze if not applied quickly enough. (Regulations state that the men will only be excused work if the temperature drops below -41°C). We get to know a number of Shukhov's fellow squad members, including the foreman Tyurin, respected by his men for his fairness and his skill in bargaining with the camp authorities, the deeply religious Alyosha who is supported by his faith, the shameless scrounger Fetyukov and Buinovsky, a former naval captain (imprisoned for accepting a gift from a British colleague) who finds it difficult to adapt to the camp after his previously privileged life. We also learn of the hardships faced by the zeks- the harshness of the weather, their inadequate clothing and equally inadequate food, consisting (unless they are lucky enough to receive parcels from home) of black bread, thin porridge and watery cabbage soup. They also face bullying from the guards, who are obsessive about enforcing petty regulations, although Solzhenitsyn does remind us that the guards are human too. Their attitude stems mainly from their own resentment at the hard conditions and at the harsh discipline imposed upon them. Should any of the zeks succeed in escaping, those guards deemed responsible will be forced to take their places in the camp.

The book ends with Ivan reflecting that he has had a good day. He hasn't fallen ill; he hasn't been sent to the punishment cells; he managed to obtain an extra bowl of porridge at dinner; he found a broken hacksaw blade which could serve him as a knife; his friend Tsezar received a parcel and shared some of its contents with him. "A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day". This passage is, of course, deeply ironic. If this day, with all its hardships, counts as a good day in Ivan's life, we are left to reflect on what a bad day must be like.

Even in the West this book was an influential one, forcing many people to reassess their view of Soviet Communism; to Russians in the sixties, trying to come to terms with the legacy of Stalinism it must have come as a shattering revelation. Solzhenitsyn never explicitly denounces the Communist system in the book; had he done so, the book would doubtless have been banned. He simply provides a description of what life in the gulag was like, but in the long run his stark, spare prose was to prove as damaging to the system as any amount of political rhetoric. It is hardly surprising that after Khrushchev's fall his successor Leonid Brezhnev did all he could to muzzle Solzhenitsyn, eventually expelling him from the Soviet Union.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
_One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich_, first published in the Soviet journal _Novy Mir_ in 1962, by the Nobel Prize winning Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a horrifying account of the life of a Russian prisoner in a Soviet labor-camp as he struggled to maintain his dignity despite facing degrading conditions. Solzhenitsyn (1918 - 2008) was a dissident Russian novelist whose works revealed the horrors of the Soviet gulag and who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. This novel focuses on the life of a single individual Ivan Denisovich Shukhov and his daily struggles amidst grinding cruelty and barbaric conditions in a Soviet labor-camp. Solzhenitsyn himself had first hand experience with the labor camps having been imprisoned himself at one time for his dissident writings. This novel is important not only because it reveals the bleak and harsh existence of the Russian zek (convict) often sentenced to labor on spurious grounds by the Soviet state but also because it demonstrates the unfairness of the Soviet system. Solzhenitsyn was an important figure, a dissident intellectual, who spoke out against such oppression while living in the Soviet regime. The life of the Russian zek, often condemned for an arbitrarily long period of time to work in unbearable conditions and in freezing cold while being provided with only a minimal diet, was a stark and harsh existence. Many could not survive such conditions and those who could had to manage to find meaning in an otherwise cruel reality. This novel shows that existence and reveals the bitterness and stark horror of the Soviet state in the process.

The novel focuses on one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, serving a 3,653 day sentence in a labor camp after being accused of being a German spy having been captured by the Germans during the war as a prisoner of war. In a cruel irony of fate, Ivan Denisovich was no spy but merely caught by the Germans and thus is serving a sentence for a "crime" he did not commit. Other individuals at the camp are serving similar sentences for similar charges and with few exceptions none of them were actually spies. Thus, we see the cruelty and unfairness of the system. The day begins with Ivan Denisovich trying to obtain a dispensation from his work duties for being sick; however, since others have already been exempted for being sick he is forced to work regardless of his sickness. As Solzhenitsyn ironically notes, "Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?" Ivan Denisovich then begins his day of work spent at a construction site under the harshest of conditions. Food rations at the camp are very scant and much of the story is devoted to describing the manner in which the zeks attempt to make the best out of their minimal rations and attempt to steal or hide away tiny morsels to maintain their strength. The prisoners also are desperate for cigarettes and will frequently take the butts of cigarettes when they can from their harsh masters. A central character in the novel is that of Alyosha who is a Baptist and believes that being in prison is a good thing allowing him to reflect on spiritual matters, a view which Ivan Denisovich does not share. Alyosha has managed to smuggle in a Bible among his things and has hidden it. Ivan Denisovich discusses spiritual matters with him and the nature of God. In another scene it is noted that prisoners are allowed to pick up parcels from their families. In a particularly bitter scene, Solzhenitsyn notes that Ivan Denisovich no longer receives parcels because he has told his wife to not rob the kids seeing as how his parcels go to waste. However, poor Ivan cannot help hoping everyday that one day he might receive something. Another fear among men in the camp is being "put in the hole" and confined to solitary confinement. Many do not survive this treatment and it continually lurks at the back of their minds should they not behave themselves. The prisoners together frequently discuss their sentences and while some maintain that they are nearing the end of their sentences the time does not seem to pass for Ivan Denisovich. Frequently when those who have neared the end of their sentences are simply told that they are to receive a further sentence and thus there is little to hope for in this respect. The book ends by concluding that Ivan Denisovich has had a good day. He has survived another day, he has managed to obtain some extra food and has managed to get some cigarettes, he has not been thrown into the hole and his work gang has done good, he had managed to hide a blade from the guards and not gotten caught, and he has managed to get over being sick. Thus, one of the 3,653 days of Ivan Denisovich's sentence concludes.

This novel is a classic of Russian literature and highly important for what it reveals about the harshness and cruelty of the Soviet state. The late Solzhenitsyn was one of the most important figures in Twentieth century literature and one of the most important Russian authors. This novel really remains one of the most important of Solzhenitsyn and helped elevate him to international recognition for pointing out the cruelties of the Soviet labor-camp. It speaks to the cruelty of man to man and the totalitarian nature of Soviet communism.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This review is for the 1st American edition, translated by Michael Glenny, rather than the newer paperback version containing a longer text.

AUGUST 1914 is an historical epic describing the social conditions existing in Russia at the beginning of the First World War, and the events leading up to the disastrous incursion by the Russian Second Army into Eastern Prussia, known as the Battle of Tannenburg. Author Solzhenitsyn (hereafter referred to as A.S.) follows a large cast of historical and fictional characters in order to accomplish his goal: creating a vivid picture of the Russian people and the swirl of competing ideological notions of the time, from Tsarist to socialist and everything in between. This is the first in a larger series, which set the background for the creation of the Soviet Union.

Growing up in the 70's and 80's, A.S. was a figure that I can now see was useful for propaganda purposes at the time, much like Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and so my opinion prior to reading any of his work was influenced heavily by his reputation as an intellectual and a dissident. So my expectations were high, in other words, for this work, which I expected to be profound in ways that most historical epics simply can't be, due the nature of the medium. Following a huge cast of characters while relating actual events does not lend itself very well to deeper, more psychological writing - add to that a necessity (if one were trying to draw a picture of the country at the time) for political and ideological discussions between characters, and the end result in this case is a flawed work that tries to do too much in a too limited setting.

That doesn't mean I didn't like it, though. For the type of book I was actually expecting, I suspect I will have to turn to CANCER WARD or ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENOSOVITCH - AUGUST 1914 is just not that kind of book. Still, I found it absorbing and interesting - even somewhat suspenseful - all the way through. Had I been aware that there was a longer edition of this title, I would certainly have read that instead, though looking through the excised chapters, I'm not sure it's necessary to go back and re-read the entire thing (there is a shorter work called LENIN IN SWITZERLAND that contains some of the missing material which I may try someday).

Perhaps this is not the place to start for A.S. It is not an easy read due to the large cast and the panoramic scope. And it can be a bit of a commitment, even in this shorter version, which clocks in at over 600 pages. Still, as a sort of testament, it took less than a week for me to read it, and I'm not nearly as quick as I used to be, so it certainly captured my interest. I also felt as though reading it were an accomplishment in itself, as I've had this book on my to-be-read list for about 25 years - so that's one more thing I can check off my bucket list.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
steven galloway
I read this book many years ago during the 1980's at the height of the Cold War, and still recall the incredibly descriptive account of life in the Gulag. Having grown up in Western society I was deeply impressed by the author's account of life in a concentration camp. His book actually allowed you to envision what it was like to live under such harsh conditions which the author had experienced in his years of captivity. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich should be required reading for college age students who have little or no appreciation of how the Soviet Union treated many of it's citizens, and give those in the US who think our government is repressive,an idea of what REAL REPRESSION is. Not an entertaining book but VERY educational and well worth it to learn how the former Soviet Union dealt with those they perceived to be dissidents.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nikki demmers
There are occasional moments of grace that make life worthwhile. In 1967, when I was barely thirteen, my family moved into a house (we were renting) whose previous occupant had left behind a handful of paperback books. Already an inexhaustible bookworm, I quickly nosed through them. One of them was Solzhenitsyn's Ivan Denisovich (older readers will remember it as the largish, black-covered, "Only Authorizied Edition" printing). Reading it changed my life, opening up for me a love of Russian literature that's remained to this day.

I've re-read Ivan several times since, and just finished going through it yet another time. What increasingly strikes me is Solzhenitsyn's ability to convey so much through such a sparing use of words. Through short paragraphs, minimal interior exploration, and few lines of dialogue, S. paints a portrait of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, the eponymous character, that leaves the reader with the certainty that he or she knows Shukhov intimately. Other characters, drawn with even fewer strokes, are equally portrayed in strangely complete ways: the Estonian companions, inscrutable and inseparable, who lend Shukhov tobacco; Tsezar, the young intellectual who at times barely seems to know that he's in a gulag camp; Alyosha, the pious baptist whose religious conviction contrasts so starkly with the cynical conniving of Fetiukov; the stoical Tiurin, Ivan's squad leader; and the robust--and, one fears, doomed--Captain Buinovsky, former naval captain whose career was demolished by a thoughtless gesture of foreign goodwill.

There's no doubt that S.'s depiction of life in a Soviet gulag is accurate. But there's also no doubt that he intended to do more than merely chronicle Stalin's inhumanity. The book is also an acute psychological exploration into what near impossible conditions do to the characters of men, as well as a biting social commentary: the camp has as definite a pecking order as does the outside world, something which simply ought not to exist in a communist culture.

S. would go on to write several great novels, as well as his unsurpassable history of the gulag years. But I'm not sure that any of his later works surpass Ivan Denisovich. It remains, I think, his supreme artistic accomplishment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insiduously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to seperate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" ~Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

This book details the fictional day of Shukhov Ivan Denisovich in a Stalinist work camp in Siberia. Many of the prisoners in these work camps (Gulags) were political prisoners who had in some way voiced their concerns/frustrations against the communistic Mother Russia. Rather than kill these so-called rebels, they sent them to Gulags as slave laborers and gave them just barely enough to keep them alive.

The title character had been captured by the Germans and placed in a POW camp. He and one other Russian soldier escaped and upon returning to their homeland were accused of being spies. This innocent man was sent to the gulags for ten years. This is a book of fiction; however, it is based on the author's personal experiences in the work camps. There were in fact innocent prisoners sent to the gulags for much longer and for much less than that.

The two words that encapsulate this book for me are frozen and hungry. I get cold just reading the first paragraph of the book:

"The hammer banged reveille on the rail outside camp HQ at five o'clock as always. Time to get up. The ragged noise was muffled by ice two fingers thick on the windows and soon died away. Too cold for the warder to go on hammering."

The prisoners were forced to work from sunup to sundown in below zero weather. The only time they weren't marched out to work were in conditions fourty-one below or worse. The title character spends his entire day working, trying to stay warm, and fanagling additional food from his fellow prisoners. They were given less than a ladleful of slop each meal--just enough to keep them alive. I think this paragraph from the book vividly describes the importance of this slop to the prisoners:

"Standing there to be counted through the gate of an evening, back in camp after a whole day of buffeting wind, freezing cold, and an empty belly, the zek (prisoner) longs for his ladleful of scalding hot watery evening soup as for rain in time of drought. He could knock it back in a single gulp. For the moment that ladleful means more to him than freedom, more than his whole past life, more than whatever life is left to him."

For some reason the Gulags of the Soviet Union do not receive much publicity in the US. I can't think of one movie about the suffering in the Soviet Gulags. However, this book has piqued my interest, and I am determined to learn more about them. There is a bulky book on my to-read list called Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum. I look forward to reading it, and hopefully it will give me a little more of the history and real life stories.

In my opinion, the book does not really try to get too political. The book is meant to give you a glimpse into a day in the life of a Gulag prisoner. Sadly, it was actually one of his better days. The book is only 159 pages and only took me two days to read. I heartily recommend it
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Stalin held the Soviet Union in a grip of terror from 1941 until he died (or, some are now saying, was murdered) in 1953. Among the atrocities that were always suspected were the existence of brutal Siberian prisons. In 1963, Alexander Solzhenitzyn's novel, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, was published in America and around the world, revealing the realities of these experiences.
As much as the book makes an important statement of the political and social conditions of the era, it is also a wonderful work of literature. In a direct, spare style, the author goes through the minutiae of daily life from the perspective of one man, the title character who is mostly called Shukhov in the book. Like the other prisoners, Shukhov is not in for crime as we define it in America; his crime was to have been unlucky enough during World War II to be taken as a POW. Another prisoner's crime was to have received a small token of appreciation after the war from a British soldier. The brutalities they experience in their prison are not those commonly associated with contemporary American incarceration. Insufficient clothing, insufficient food and insufficient bedding in a remote arctic setting are just the beginning. They have nothing else. Work on building a "community" is only called off if the temperature goes lower than 42 degrees below zero. The men are given insufficient tools and supplies but are expected under threat to complete the building process in record time. On the one hand, the author writes, your worst enemy is the man next to you because you are both scrambling for the same meager scraps. At the same time, though, the dynamics of the system require that you give your allegiance to the gang. Many of the boss jobs are given to prisoners which yields another revelation about Stalin's world: the wall between prisoner and paid staff was very thin. Another: in the brief flashbacks of life outside the prison, there are struggles and inadequacies as well, no one has it easy. And another: the prisoners have one advantage that no one else in the USSR has, the freedom to communicate candidly without threat; what else can be done to those already living the life of punishment? At the end of the day, Shukhov is thrilled: he has caged a few extra scraps of food during the day and did nothing that would cause him to be thrown into solitary confinement of which he is most afraid.
My chief test of fiction is, does the author create an airtight world, using it to explicate universal truths of the human condition? ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH succeeds brilliantly. It is very readable, much like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, and while it profiles a terrible life, it also emits a spirituality that arises from the specter of men who find something to be grateful for at the end of the day, even if it is an extra crust of stale bread or the fact that in the last 24 hours, they did nothing, however innocently, however not their own fault, that would get them sent to solitary confinement.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is the fictional (but based on reality) account of one day in the life of a prisoner in Stalin's forced work camps. While only 170 pages, it is indeed quite powerful, as you might guess from the fact that it won the Nobel Prize for literature. The book is relatively easy reading in the sense of the language, but there's a lot to be learned from it. The author also makes good use of prisoners recounting a few past events to broaden the picture that we can gain from just this one day. We learn about the way the work camps were set up, the frivilous reasons many were confined, the effects on families, interactions between prisoners, bribes, the sense of futility, and the, at times, mob mentality that can develop among prisoners when they are punished for the actions of one.

As a note, Willett's translation is from the full text, and was authorized by the book's autho Solzhenitsyn. Apparently, many other translations were made from the edited version that was first published in 1962 in a Soviet journal, and so are a bit more whitewashed by comparison.

One note, as might not be surprising in a prison population, there are several "mild profanities," mainly sh**. There were probably half a dozen over the course of the book, certainly not extremely frequently. Given the setting and the purpose of the book, I wasn't personally offended, and I'm rather strict with language.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it, with the brief warning above about language.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a must-read. Think of it as the Soviet equivalent of Night (Oprah's Book Club).

The book is about what the title says- a day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, usually referred to as "Shukhov" in the book. We follow Ivan Denisovich through one day in his life in the gulag- from reveille at 5:00 a.m. to bedtime around 10:00 p.m. Primarily on our protagonist's mind is finding some extra food (all they get is a bowl of gruel and 550 grams of bread 3 times a day), staying warm, staying out of the camp prison, and staying alive.

Through "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," readers learn what life in a totalitarian state is like, and what slavery is like. People were imprisoned in the gulag for writing derogatory comments about Stalin, or for being Baptist, or for no reason at all. The title character was imprisoned for being a German spy. In World War II, he was captured by the Germans, but escaped. Unfortunately, the Soviet interrogators beat him until he confessed to being a spy, and he got 10 years. In the early days of Stalin's gulag, everyone got 10 years regardless of what they did, and later on everyone got a flat 25 years. Supposedly, Kruschev praised the book, calling it "an indictment of Stalin's cult of personality." While this is certainly true, it's an indictment of totalitarianism in general, and the Soviet state in particular.

No major plot developments happen- there's no uprising, and no knight in shining armor comes and rescues the people from the gulag. The closing part says it all, "Shukhov felt pleased with his life as he went to sleep...The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one." Everyone needs to read this.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Solzhenitsyn distills his voluminous Gulag Archipelago into his magnificent novel, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". The book is almost mundane in its account of the dreary, repetitive, and dehumanizing life in a Soviet "work" camp.

The circumstances leading to the arrest of thousands were doctrinaire and naive, corresponding perfectly with the personalities of those writing and enforcing such laws. The Soviet rule which first made use of such "concentration" camps can be accurately described, and is demonstrated perfectly by Solzhenitsyn, using the following analogy.

Imagine a social system in which the leaders are colour blind--they cannot distinguish between ripe and green tomatoes. However, they are not content to accept this fact; they must unrealistically force those who have functional vision to become like they are. They must cease to distinguish between green and ripe tomatoes. Under such leaders' supervision, they must even eat green tomatoes, pretending they are ripe. Such leaders, however, cannot rule without those who have some ability to distinguish colour. These are the middle men, caught between two worlds.

The phenomenon of Communism can be accurately described as pathocracy, a term created by Dr. Andrew Lobaczewski in his book Political Ponerology. In such a system psychopaths are the Daltonists; those who cannot understand the emotional inner life of the vast majority of humanity. They thus attempt the impossible, to stamp the conscience out of the rest of us.

Solzhenitsyn masterfully captures the essence of life under pathocracy. It is absurd and horrific, and without knowledge of its true nature, it will continue to periodically destroy large portions of humanity.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
loree draude
This was published in NOVY MIR in 1962. According to Marvin Kalb, Krushchev's approval was necessry to print this take on the Stalinist era. It created a sensation.

Ivan Shukhov was put to work cleaning the guardroom by the guard the inmates of the camp called The Tartar. Another zek, prisoner, had saved Ivan's stew for him at the mess hall. After vegetable stew, black cabbage, there was magara, oatmeal. It was seventeen degrees below zero and windy. Ivan's squad, the one hundred fourth, was in its normal position for the work detail. There was, unusually, a search conducted before the men set out. A former Navy commander mentioned the Criminal Code and was given ten days in the guardhouse. The prison, eighteen cells, was brick. The camp for forced labor was logbuilt.

It was 1951. Ivan Shukhov had a right to two letters that year. He had left home in 1941. There was now little sense in writing. The collective farm, the Kolkhoz, where Ivan and his wife had resided was now being kept going by women and children. Ivan's fellow villagers now engaged in the craft of carpet painting. His wife assured him that using stencils he could do the same.

Ivan's squad leader was serving a second term in the Gulag and knew all the ways of the system. In camp a man can cheat anyone but not the squad leader. Snowstorms were no use to anyone. The prisoners were locked in and the days were counted as holidays. The work had to be made up. Their squad's work was being transferred to a half-completed building, the power station. They were to lay cement blocks. They needed to figure out how to make the machine room warmer. The machine room was to be used for mixing mortar.

More depended on the work report than the work itself. A clever squad leader kept the men fed. Ivan Densovich Shukhov, according to his dossier, had been sentenced for high treason. He had already served eight years. He had been taken prisoner by the Germans. His confession to the Soviet authorities was false. He had taken the path of least resistance.

The meal in the middle of the day was real oatmeal. Ivan managed to score several extra servings for his group through a sleight of hand. This straightforward narrative remains a moving and emotional experience to the Western reader. Solzhenitsyn explains how not wages but the good of the fellow squad members served as a goad to produce work from the prisoners. On the day of the book, Ivan had built a wall and enjoyed it. He had almost had a happy day.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I tried to read this in my twenties and just couldn't appreciate the harshness of the prison camps at that age. Reading it again in my thirties, I find it a compelling story. Short and well told, it covers one day from reveille (5 AM) to lights out (around 10 PM) in a Russian prison camp. Prisoners were never allowed to see a clock and he said the night check at 9 PM always resulted in a recount so you never went to bed before 10. Ivan Denisovich, called Shukov throughout the book (or S-854 by his warders), takes us through his pre-roll call activities (trying to get on the sick list and a near miss with being thrown in "the can"), through roll call and the process of going out to the work site, how they were assigned and how the actual work day went, the process of checking back into the work camp and evening activities like the evening meal and receipt of packages, all the way up to lights out.
Of course it is not the actual activities that make the story so compelling. The actual activities are actually quite mundane and boring. It is the extent of the deprivation, the harshness of the conditions and the many various personalities that are so well described that you can see them, their mannerisms and expressions, in your mind's eye. Many of the men were considered spies after escaping from German POW camps - some only made a comment somewhere out of line. Each man comes through clear. Take Captain, a loyal old naval officer who's only crime was to receive a souvenir from a British admiral engraved "in Gratitude". He is a staunch Communist and party man and a little too outspoken to make it in the camp though his fellow members of gang 104 try to help him out. Then there is Alyoska, the Baptist. His is true faith - "... you mustn't pray for somebody to send you a package or for an extra helping of gruel. Things that people set store by are base in the sight of the Lord. You must pray for the things of the spirit so the Lord will take evil things from our hearts."
And there is Tyurin, the tough but well respected gang boss ... and Der, a camp 'bureacrat' who tries to goes against him.
Good men (most of them), good book ... worth a few hours to read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book provides a powerful statement about brutality, hopelessness, and unjust imprisonment. No doubt drawing from his own experiences in Stalin's gulag, author Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) describes a single day as experienced by prisoner Ivan Denisovich Sukhov in 1951. His crime? While fighting in the Red Army he was captured by the Germans, so Ivan's escape must have been (so felt the Soviet secret police) due to his having made a secret deal with the enemy. More than halfway thru his ten-year sentence, Sukhov has learned how to survive in this barren, desolate camp. He must work hard, scrounge for food, avoid the attention of the guards, and stay as warm as he can. His barren existence? Ceaseless labor, meager rations, and the bitter cold of Siberia. Yet Ivan never gives up hope, and even sees some good in some of his nameless captors.

By conveying the barren desolation of imprisonment, Solzhentisyn matches similar writings by Bernard Malamud (THE FIXER), Elie Weisel (NIGHT), and Anne Frank (DIARY OF ANNE FRANK). Yet somehow Solzhenitsyn never entirely grabs the reader. Perhaps this was due to the translation, or maybe his acclaim being due more to his having opposed communist oppression than his writing stirring prose. Whatever your view, this is a powerful book, if not a completely engrossing one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
You find yourself in a freezing Siberian work camp on limited, disgusting food and conditions and a regime that gives you barely any relaxation but pain day in day out - how would you survive? So gripping did I find this book (versions differ, the earlier versions were less explicit than the unexpurgated text that forms the basis of post 60s editions) that I did not ge off my train on time and ended up in a freezing station having to get back home. It's enough to make anyone give up, but Denisovich (Sukhov or Shukov) does not. Shukov is his surname is a survivor who measures and calculates his survival strategy to a T and has almost become instutionalised into his gulag camp. Would he be happy to win his freedom. By the end of the book this question remains moot as Shukov knows freedom is not a reality, merely survival.

Counting bowls of food and getting himself extra rations through the back door. Knowing how to deal tactfully with his superiors. There is a tragi comic aspect to this short, undivided script the rings out in a matter of fact highly descriptive scenario from an author who apparently did time in a gulag.

Stalin was a cold monster and the victims try to cope. Interestingly I sometimes feel my life almost as restrictive as one negotiates ones limited student stipend to make it stretch in colourful ways ... or our lives could so easily get so tough. All the more reason to work hard and be kind to neighbours in the rat race - and perhaps this book will guide you about trancending your ratty nature if you feel that rat race it is.

A classic book, worth reading to get into educated circles.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is the story of a day in the life of a prisoner in a gulag complete with the monotany, the harsh weather, and the tragedy of a country. The protagonist seems to be based at least somewhat on the experiences of Solzhenitsyn himself and the other characters represent a variety of those who have found themselves in this loathsome place somewhere within Stalin's vast empire. The setting is in the early 1950s as the Korean War is being waged and Stalin hasn't yet died. Overall, Solzhenitsyn delivered a harsh though still toned down tale of man's inhumanity towards his fellow man and the will to survive one day at a time. There is some harsh language so I wouldn't recommend it to very young readers but I do recommend it to those interested in Communistic totalitarism, this particular period in history, or just interested in the rather unusual nature of the plot. In truth, while this work is good, it pales in comparison to Solzhenitsyn's later "The Gulag Archipaelago" of which a very good recent abridged version is available on the store. Further reading on totalitarian labor camps of either the Nazi or Communist variety can be found in Corrie Ten Boom's book "The Hiding Place" and Sabina Wurmbrand's "The Pastor's Wife" respectively amongst other books. Overall though, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a generally fast read and is worth the read. I recommend it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
delta studer
Quality literature about life in Soviet Union is not available in great quantities. Because of the government controls on press and speech, little could be said that went against the party ranks. "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was only released because Kruschev believed it to be appropriate propoganda against Stalinism and moving past the previous regime. While the product is not flashy, it leaves an impression on the reader.

Solzhenitsyn is gifted in his ability to make the reader see the prison camp. One can almost feel the cold of the Siberian winter as the narrator endures the conditions. One aspect of the book that spoke to me as I read the book is the psychology of being a prisoner. Prisoners are virtually dehumanized and left squabble like animals for the smallest conveniences. When a man loses his home, has no place to go, and has no possessions, a person reduced to accepting any order in the faint hope of survival.

No statement is more poignant than the last paragraph of the book. "Shukov went to sleep that day 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's built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he'd smuggled a bit of a hacksaw blade through; he'd earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he'd bought that tobacco. And he hadn't fallen ill. He'd gotten over it. A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day." When a person has been reduced by so much, the most trivial pleasures are magnified in importance.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
"Shukhov 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 the team to the settlement; he'd pinched a bowl of kasha at dinner; the team-leader had fixed the rates well; he'd smuggled that bit of hacksaw-blade through; he'd earned something from Tsezar in the 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."

An important text. Historical, informative, a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. A treatise on the damage to country, spirit and person, when living under a totalitarian system. If nothing else it will make one realise the blessing of living in a free country where a citizen has certain assurances.

A good read, but be aware that it is exactly what the title suggest, an account of a day like any other, there is no plot, purposely. At times the text reads as if it is working up to some kind of climax (for example when they take away the railing from some steps, the reader might expect someone to fall and die, and when Shukhov hides the blade in his mitten, one expects a discovery) but it never reaches. The structure of the text is such to represent the drudgery of a zek in a labour camp on just another ordinary day, giving the reader the experience of prison life under such circumstances.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
az beavers
Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece, telling the story of the Siberian labor camps by describing a single day in the life of a prisoner, has not lost its power or immediacy after the fall of the regime that inspired it. The Soviet empire may have proved impermanent. But it should not surprise us that Solzhenitsyn's tale of human endurance in the frigid sub-Arctic has outlived it.

Told from the perspective of Ivan Denisovich, sentenced to 10 years because he had the bad form to be captured by the Germans in WWII, the book describes in delicious detail the way prisoners accommodated to their bleak existences. A small favor here, sharing a bit a bread there, secreting a bit of metal, constant edging out the others for a tiny advantage -- such was the continual fight for enough to eat, snarling at a fool, avoiding punishment and just getting along in the world's most forbidding environment. Prisoners relied on their natural cunning and resilience to make it through the unbearable days -- setting their own work goals rather than submitting to the orders of guards, conniving with each other, outwitting the lesser endowed and employing mental tricks to win tiny victories known only to themselves.

"One Day" is equally a paean to the human spirit as it is an indictment of the mindset that could force human beings to exist in such marginal and inhospitable places.

The book is wonderfully fleshed out by Frank Muller's narration. Muller's pace is almost too quick, but that may be an artifact (in pre-CD 1982) of needing to fit the story into 3 cassettes.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The translators Hayward and Hingley should be acknowledged for the excellent smooth flowing translation of this short novel.

This is not a heavy read nor is it a difficult read; this is really a novella, just 144 pages long. As most know, he was the 1970 Nobel Prize winner of literature. In 1974 he was arrested and had to leave Soviet Russia but he returned approximately 20 years later, and after the fall of Communism. This novel remains as one of his best known works.

As a bonus feature, there is a short forward by Solzhenitsyn where he explains how his books have been censored and he explains the downfall of 19th century Russian literature, due to the stifling environment created by the socialist sensors. He cites many examples of fellow writers who were sent to camps including Dostoevsky, but he cites many less well known 20th century writers.

The book itself is dripping with irony. The author takes us through one day in a labour camp - which is one day in a ten year sentence of an inmate. It is based on Solzhenitsyn's own capture and eight year sentence. The irony is that many fellow inmates are not criminals but were caught up in the political intrigue and arbitrariness of the times. Ivan Denisovich is in the camp because he escaped Nazi capture WWII, and his escape was not believed by fellow Russians.

This is an excellent novel on the human condition and the state of affairs in Soviet Russia.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I find it interesting to sometimes ponder, just how extreme can humanity go? What conditions can we put ourselves in and through and still come out on the other side? Solzhenitsyn takes this question and puts it into literary form, if only for the period of one day. Thankfully, unlike the author, many of us will never have to endure something brutal as the Siberian gulag.
The book follows the psychological perspective of Ivan Denisovich, who is a "zek"(prisoner) who has been condemned to a 10 year stretch for merely having the misfortune of becoming a POW. You get to imagine the siberian cold(they are allowed to not work if it hits -40, which even when it does they just lie and force them to work anyway). You see the internal politics which are part of the means of survival, and just what a piece of hard bread and a bowl of cold, wet oats can mean to a man that is already in hell. It's also fascinating to see how he can still has pride and dignity in his work while trying to make sure each brick is set properly while under the intensity of forced labor. Make no mistake about it, this is a book with strong masculine tones, that i'm suprised doesn't enjoy more popularity under such a banner. The book itself is only around 130 pages or so, and can be read quickly by the determined reader, who would be cheating themselves not to read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jessica s
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is indeed a powerful book. Were it merely the grim testimonial to life in the Soviet Gulags or a witness to infringed liberties, its force would be staggering. Were it a testimony to the indomitableness of human nature, it would be crushing. As it is, it shatters our perception of man and ourselves as no other book, save Anne Franke`s diary and the testemony of Elie Wiesl, could ever have done.
However, it is more than all the above. "One Day" is actually a searching look at human nature. The biting wind, jagged wire, frigid climate, watery soup, and the warmth provided by an extra pair of mittens or an hour of hard physical labor all find matches in the colorful crowd of characters that parades through this narrative - from the prison guards to the prisoners themselves to the prison director to the turncoat prisoners who sold their integrity for the favor of their oppressors.
This is a book to be read, first of all, for its historical value - a tribute to those who were imprisoned but whose voices were never heard, and a silent plea to commit all our forces to the proposition that such vileness will never reach our liberty-loving shores. No less importantly, this is a book that should prompt us to turn our eyes inward and question ourselves whether, in our own way, we are capable of committing the same atrocities against our fellow man, and whether, if subjected to the same suffering, we would have the strength of character to find as much comfort in a bowl of soup as we do now in the transient, unfounded knowledge that such inhumanity will not touch us.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
angela sklar
A brief Anti-Stalinist tendency in 1962 in the Soviet Union allowed the publication of Solzhenitsyn's account of life in a Siberian labor camp, a fictionalized account firmly based on his own experiences. He had spent eight years in such a camp.

There are innumerable details, such as the fact that prisoners are never allowed the sight of a clock, that speak to the authenticity of the narrative, details that few fiction writers could think up.

The author uses a plain, unadorned prose that is appropriate to the theme. To that extent, translations are not problematic, but the story includes a lot of prison slang, some grossly obscene, which is virtually untranslatable. Translators usually employ the nearest equivalent slang in the target language, which can read a little oddly - especially to an American reader reading a British edition, or vice versa - but it is probably the best approach. This occasional oddness of language does not detract from the overall effect.

A Day is a grim narrative yet easy to read, and surprisingly optimistic and uplifting. It portrays honorable and proud behavior under extreme stress. It stands as a testament to the horrors of political repression and the resilience of the human spirit.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This short novel is much more readable than many of Solzhenitsyns other works. I have read all three volumes of Gulag as well as The First Circle; this is by far the most approachable. Gulag is, of course, a work of non-fiction with a scattered encyclopedic style. The First Circle is like many other Russian novels with a huge cast of characters whose lives intertwine in ways that are difficult to keep straight. One Day in the Life, on the other hand, is short and to the point. The unrelenting hopelessness of the prisoner's lives and the bestial conditions they try to survive are described in a matter of fact way. Life for Ivan Denisovich and his fellow prisoners consists of a struggle to survive. Nearly every minute of their waking hours are spent occupied in getting enough food to keep from starving and with staying warm enough to keep from freezing while working as slave labour from dawn to dusk. All the while they must take care to avoid the random punishments and brutalities of prison life. It is as if this hopeless situation is all that exists in the world. Solzhenitsyn imples that there is no hope for improvement in the future. The prisoners have lost their faith in better days to come; they can't even look forward to the end of their terms. Prison sentences are frequently arbitrarily extended. Those who are released are more often than not condemned to exile in Siberia and cannot return to their homes. This makes for a reality much bleaker than the fictional horrors depicted in such novels as Nineteen Eighty Four.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marilyn pobiner
One of the major values of Solzhenitzyn's work lies in the fact that it is semi-autobiographical. And as such, his work documents a time in Soviet (as well as world) history that is often overlooked by younger Western eyes. For those of my generation, born after 1978, the Cold War lacks the menace and frightening magnitude that it conveyed for over forty years. With the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the history of Soviet Russia has evaporated from popular thought and has left a gaping whole in the education of American youth. U.S. schools fail to illustrate that the Soviet Union was an empire that spanned seventy-four years, and nearly controlled half of the world.
Fortunately, One Day In The Life... brings the history of this deceased giant to bear. Solzhenitzyn sheds light on what was occurring behind "The Iron Curtain." His discussion of the infamous Gulag and the oppression of individual thought allows the reader insight into why some people were so utterly fearful of a "Communist" takeover. I was most impressed how Solzhenitzyn refrained from making an outward assault on Communist philosophy and instead concentrated on the misdeeds of the Soviet Union as a state. He allowed the reader to form his or her own opinions on the merits of collectivist thought, and instead recited his memoirs of living in the Soviet Union.
This was a very impressive, short novel, and should be considered required reading for high school history classes when discussion the Cold War or Soviet history.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
phyllis tallent
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's style and themes blend two different Russian literary tradition in one body of work. He follows the tradition of Russian critical realists - like Tolstoy and Turgenev --, but at the same time his style is closer to the tradition of those pre-Revolutionary Russians. His first novel "One Day in Life of Ivan Denisovich" is the best and most accessible example of his literature.

This novel has a very close relationship to Dostoyevsky's "The House of the Dead", once both are narratives of lives of man in prison for political reasons. However, Dostoyevsky's narrative is told in first person, making it more emotional than Solzhenitsyn's. Here, the third person narrative makes Ivan Denisovich (aka Shukhov)'s day very matter-of-fact. The result is that the reading approaches to non-fiction what makes the novel more poignant.

In both books the main character has lost his human dignity and struggles to acquire it back. Shukov was sent to a Stanalist labor camp where prisioners are attacked physical and spiritually. He doesn't accept the conditions passively, and develops a personal belief.

"One Day in Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a short book with a profound message. It reminds of how important it is to be free, to have the right of coming and going. Simple things that we can so easily forget and only value when we lose them.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dave tow
This immense story amazingly spans only a few days in the lives of several people unduly imprisoned by Joseph Stalin's secret police. Unlike the senseless horror of the "gulag", The First Circle involves the incarceration of select and highly skilled prisoners in a relatively privileged Soviet prison which is really set up as a research laboratory where these skilled inmates are exploited for their expertise. Here, (after they've been arrested under any number of false pretenses) they are forced to invent and develop elaborate electronic devices which will help in the detection and arrest of any other "subversives". The main gadget that they are called upon to produce is a "phonoscopy"... a device that will be able to accurately identify a person by examining recorded conversation.
Right from the opening tense chapters, Solzhenitsyn once again had me in his grip. For me, he is the master at capturing the foreboding sense of loss of freedom. It is palpable... in some ways, worse than outright murder... because you know that whatever happens to his characters, they are going to have to LIVE through it... they aren't even afforded the luxury of dying. At one point, he used the phrases "trampled yearnings" & "soaring passion" in one sentence and it stuck with me and I feel it summarizes what his characters face here in TFC. In ch.34 the protagonist, Gleb Nerzhin is musing with a fellow inmate on the hardships of imprisonment and he concludes that, of all his deprivations, by far the worst is the loss of freedom to be with his wife. She is allowed a visit once a year, and even then, he is not allowed to kiss her. Hearing this, his cellmate Gerasimovich concludes that "there is probably only one path to invulnerability... to kill within oneself ALL attachments and to renounce ALL desires."
This book looks deeply into the process of passivity that creeps into and consumes the life of the imprisoned. Also, there are times when it reminds us of the resiliency of the human spirit in the midst of numbing regret and longing. (I am thinking of the unforgettable scene of Rubin following the guard toward the end of ch.67).
There is a passage in ch.84 which I think wonderfully capsulizes what Solzhenitsyn is telling us here in TFC: "Unfortunately for people - and fortunately for their rulers - a human being is so constituted that as long as he lives there is always something more that can be taken away from him. Even a person imprisoned for life, deprived of movement, of the sky, of family, of property, can, for instance, be transferred to a damp punishment cell, deprived of hot food, beaten with clubs, and he will feel these petty extra punishments as intensely as his earlier downfall from the heights of freedom and affluence. To avoid these final torments, the prisoner follows obediently the humiliating and hateful prison regime, which slowly kills the human being within him."
This is not a "happily-ever-after" book. We may be able to deny ourselves the luxury of exposure to Solzhenitsyn's themes, but one thing we cannot deny is the fact that his books are based upon things that actually happened in history. Because they did. And they do. Here is one of the finest writers of the 20th Century, and this is his masterpiece.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Ivan Shukhov is a soldier, trademan, and prisoner in Stalin's Gulag. One Day is the chronicle of a single, more-or-less successful winter day of his term in prison. Ivan awakens, eats slop, runs errands for other prisoners to supplement that slop, and works with his team to build a wall. Among his fellow prisoners Solzhenitsyn has placed individual representatives of the various types that inhabited the Gulag: members of inconvenient nationalities, intellectuals, communist hacks (unflatteringly incarnated in the parasitical figure of Fetiukov), a few genuine criminals, and an evangelical Christian named Alyosha. (If the views of the latter on suffering seem a bit different from those you hear from American Christians, especially of the health-and-wealth variety, so much the worse for us, perhaps.)
In this, his first published work, Solzhenitsyn revealed the brilliance of a great Russian novelist. Human nature is tested by the most adverse conditions and comes alive. Ironically, tyranical policies often did have the positive effect both in Russia and in China, of breaking down barriers between intellectuals and the plebes to reveal the common humanity of both -- in the end, to the sorrow of the regime. One subtle and ironic example of Solzhenitsyn's realism is the pleasure his presumable "enemy of the working class" hero finds even in work in a Siberian slave labor camp.
While First Circle is my favorite of Solzhenitsyn's books, and Gulag is one of the most powerful works of our time, One Day is a small gem, a perfectly realized portrait. Actually it is not a picture of slave labor, or even communism; like all great literature, it is about life itself, and what it means to be a moral being. For an interesting contrast to Solzhenitsyn's bitterly ironic but ultimately life-affirming chronicle, read One Day in tandem with The Plague, written by fellow Nobel Prize lauriette Albert Camus. Camus' novel about a town that has become prisoner to bubonic plague takes place in a larger camp, but in my opinion a smaller universe, than the world of Ivan Denisovich, still less of Alyosha.
Krushchev may have threatened us over Cuba, and banged his shoe on the table in the UN, but he also permitted publication of this novel. Here's to his health, wherever he is.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man [email protected]
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963) (Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn 1918-)
Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the
following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God;
that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spend well-nigh 50 years working on the history
of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal
testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing
away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as
possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people,
I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has
-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Over the course of his long and brilliant career as a gadfly to both Russia and the West, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn managed to pull off a remarkable trifecta: he was exiled by the USSR, banished from the Cold War dialogue by Western political and cultural elites and then banished from the discussion over Russia's future by the intelligencia there. He has truly made a career as a voice crying in the wilderness, launching one jeremiad after another.
In 1945, Solzehenitsyn was sent to the Gulag for ten years after writing derogatory comments about Stalin in a letter to a friend. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, as the title suggests, describes what just one day would have been like behind the barbed wire. The story is set in the forced labor camp where he was imprisoned from 1950-53. That the system that perpetrated such crimes was evil is obvious, but it is through the sheer accumulation of mundane indignities and small triumphs (over hunger, cold, ill health, etc.) that the horror of the camps is really brought home. One of the most dramatic moments in the book, nicely illustrative of the small scale but enormous stakes of the victories won, comes when Ivan manages to secrete a spoon that he had forgotten he was carrying. In the end, simply surviving this barbaric system becomes the greatest victory.
With the publication of this book, in 1962, during the brief Kruschev thaw, Solzhenitsyn became an international sensation. In 1974, when the first sections of The Gulag Archipelago were published in Paris, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, tried for treason and forced into exile, eventually settling in Vermont. I suppose folks must have expected him to be so grateful for his asylum that he would express undying gratitude to the United States. If so they underestimated the moral tenor of the man. He proved to be nearly as outspoken a critic of the West as he had been of the USSR, culminating in his 1978 Harvard Commencement speech, where first he excoriated Western intellectuals in general (...)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
aditi mittal
The entirety of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's short novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" takes place on a winter day in 1951 in a Siberian labor camp. The title character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, has been a prisoner there for the past eight years and has two more to go, provided his sentence isn't extended even longer for no reason at all. As a Soviet soldier in World War II, he was imprisoned after being accused of spying for the Germans, but the novel is concerned more with his daily routine at the camp than with the politics behind his imprisonment.
Like anybody who's been in a highly structured and disciplined environment for a long time, Shukhov has developed his own individualized way of living day to day, bending the rules, avoiding punishment, and making life a little more bearable under the circumstances. Temperatures are commonly well below zero and the food is barely nutritional enough to keep the prisoners alive, but Shukhov has adapted well enough to know how to stay warm and make the most out of his meals. On this particular day, Shukhov's squad is forced to work construction; the novel describes how well Shukhov has honed his masonry skills as he expertly lays blocks and mortar building a wall for a building that will be used to hold future prisoners. Life at the camp has made him tough and independent; his only weakness is tobacco, for which he will beg, borrow, or steal.
The novel is based on Solzhenitsyn's own experience as a labor camp prisoner under Stalin's reign, and therefore it has a sincere, natural, brutal quality that not even someone like Orwell could imitate. More than anything, though, it portrays a man whose spirit is strong enough to triumph over the most extreme adversity. Case in point: There is another prisoner named Fetiukov, a sniveling weasel who cries about his harsh treatment. Shukhov observes that Fetuikov won't survive his imprisonment because he has the wrong attitude, which is why he can't help but feel a little sorry for the guy. This work is not only an indictment of the machinations of one of the twentieth century's most oppressive political systems; it also succeeds as a concise study in humanism.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kate bolton
I found "One Day" to be a rather fascinating book. By modern standards, this book may not measure up to what many would call a "classic", but taken in it's historical context, one can understand it's importance. This book was written and published at a time when doing so would have been extremely dangerous. In fact, Solzhenitsyn was actually exiled for it, and was lucky to receive only that punishment for it. He offers what was at the time, a rare and frightening look behind the iron curtain. This book is still important today, as it reminds us of what tyranny can and frequently does accomplish, and why we still fight against it.
On a lighter note, I found it rather interesting that this book brought back many fond memories of being in the Army. The two experiences seem to be somewhat similar, although it is difficult to make an accurate comparison without having gone through the Soviet prison camp system. It seems the biggest difference, though, is that people actually CHOOSE to be in the Army and they are well-fed and clothed while there. It was also interesting to note that most of the prisoners took a certain pride in their work, even though they were not paid for it, and they were forced to do it. This is something of a rarity in today's free society where laziness and incompetence are usually greatly encouraged and rewarded.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
benet larrick
One Day is based on the real life experience of A. Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned for the better part of ten years (may have been more, can't remember) in a Russian hard labor camp. One of the ironies of this is that A.S. was not an outspoken dissident or a rabble rouser, he mostly held to the party line, or didn't give much thought to politics. He was imprisoned for an offhand comment after years of loyalty. After finally being released, and writing this novel, the book was banned in Russia and he was eventually forced into exile from his beloved/hated mother country. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for this and his subsequent works about Russia during his lifetime.
The character Ivan mirrors A.S. in some respects, most notably in the fact that he doesn't care at all about any of the ideology behind the camp. Some of the other characters debate politics or sociology and mostly get thrown into solitary confinement. But not Ivan. He thinks about food and how he's going to get more of it. He thinks about keeping his foot wrappings dry and leaves the political proselytizing to the fools who will soon be dead.
Ironically, this is where the book finds its true literary achievement. At the heart of this character is a total disillusion, not the smallest spark of hope or faith in ideals or humanity, and yet the experience of watching this character carefully manuever his way to an extra bowl of soup, a pinch of fresh tobbacco, an old crust of bread -- it's magical somehow. The scene of the prisoners laying bricks is practically transcendental. Here there is dignity, pride, a sense of accomplishment, community, even a small amount of pleasure. Did we forget we were reading about a communist forced labor camp? Yes, for a moment, we did.
There's a powerful statement about the nature of a human being in that. This is A.S.'s achievement, the puzzling complexity of this book -- it is precisely out of his hopelessness and disillusion that Ivan Denisovich's humanity and strength arise.
You can still feel the author's conflicted sorrow, the unquenched bitterness and the utter frustration with a communist system that was completely irrational and blindly destructive. Yet the source of that frustration is the love he had for his country that nearly destroyed him. This confusion and melding of opposite poles is only appropriate for literature about Soviet communism -- a system based on such high utopian ideals, yet responsible for some of civilization's most massive atrocities.
All in all a quick read and honestly not as depressing as it may sound. An incredible novel as well as an incredible piece of literary history. Besides, when was the last time you got off so easy reading a Nobel Prize winner?
PS. I happened to pick up All Quiet On the Western Front at the same time as this book. They turned out to be quite similar in a number of ways. If you like one of these books, you will certainly like the other. Both fascinating and oddly beautiful accounts of the misuse of the population by those in power.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
drew compton
This novel is set in what passes for the best of the worst: Research duty for ex-Gulag inmates who know what misery really is. Working on idiotic deadlines set in response to Stalin's quirks, the prisoner-scientists live in a world of denial and unreality akin to Dilbert on crack. A worse fate befalls their jailer-managers, who are "free," agents of the government, and must justify repeatedly failing to meet the ridiculous deadlines that their bosses set out of fear of offending The Boss, which typically ends in either immediate execution or in joining the ranks of those in chains.

Some things that stood out as I read this book were the universality of the bureaucratic mindset: avoidance of responsibility, inertia as a policy, stonewalling, and turfmanship, all in place of actual achievement or progress in any meaningful way. Another thing is the prevalence of a false-accuser culture, where anonymus denouncements can destroy the innocent quickly, without explanation or even a trace. (Given the state of our own society today, and the risk/reward calculus that favors the accuser, this trait appeared even more ominous to me as I read the book.) The denial that gripped some of the inmates, either wholly (Rubin) or partially (Nehrzin, in the beginning, and others) about why they were in prison reminded me of "The Matrix," in that they were dreamwalking through life in a mist of Marxist/Communist mumbo-jumbo, rationalizing their fates as random chance, a mistake, the failing of the system even, but almost never as an understanding of their suffering being inherent in the System itself. As Nehrzin awakes to this, to a degree (and the author may be semi-autobiographical in his sketch of this character, like himself a decorated artillery officer imprisoned over virtually nothing), he opens his eyes to the existence of the matrix of lies, false theory supporting false gods, etc., that has fully ensnared Russia and all within her power, hostage not only to Stalin's perversity, creeping madness, and hurbis, but to a system that is itself a reflection of all of these characteristics, too. The xenophobic search for American spies undermining Motherland security under every bush, the rewriting of history to support the current lies, and the occasional mind that breaks free by rejecting those lies, as Nehrzin did, starting in his youth, reminds one of Ayn Rand's "We the Living."

Echoing "1984," the older prisoners remember things as they were before the official history filled men's minds. Things had been different than they were being told, better, materially and spiritually. The prisoners themselves were frequently veterans - those who had done the most for the State reaping an unlooked-for reward, like Belisarius blinded by a jealous Justinian, left to beg in the streets. The theme of war and survival is a thread that binds the veterans, either prisoner or "free," to each other. A bond of another kind exists between the inmates and their women - the latter mostly loyal, giving up their youth, and the possibility of starting a family, waiting for a release that may never come, sustained by the rare visit that bureaucratic stonewalling and trickery tries to prevent, their love provides a flicker of hope in the ashes of their ruined lives, where even being suspected of marriage to a political criminal was enough to make earning a living an impossibility, since the State was sole employer.

Something else that seemed relevant to America today was the culture war that Yaralov, an ex-prisoner now running a research lab as a Colonel, remembers while pondering his posible return to zek status, from his youth. He gave up the love of a Christian girl because while the Orthodox Church was legal in the 1920s, it was not politically correct. As an ambitious young man with a future, Yaralov was torn between his woman and his career. As the Church was chased out of the public square, it suffered from remembered abuses of thise in its' hierarchy, although those failures to meet the standard ignore the origin of the standard in question - the Church itself. The sellout of a certain medaeval Metropolitan to the Tartars, used as an example by Yaralov in telling his betrothed why he will not side with the Church becomes a metaphor for bureaucratic sellout - applied by her to Yaralov when he chooses the System over what they both know he knows as the truth.

Solzehenetsyn's account of life within the highest reaches of the Soviet Prison-Industrial Complex is both a fine story in its' own right and a warning to us that we can travel the same path, if we have already not begun to do so. It is also highly literate, filled with allusions to literary and historical figures from the full scope of the Western Canon, in which Russia shares, and contains very little in the way of anger - a remarkable achievement for one who emerged from the bowels of the Gulag. While anger is largely absent, satire abounds, especially comments by those on the outside about the "social origin" of others - in a supposedly classless society.

This long book is well worth the time invested in it, as it is a work of rare and tragic beauty.

-Lloyd A. Conway
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amanda land
In this novel, the first published by Solzhenitsyn in 1962, the author chose to portray one ordinary day of Ivan Denisovich Shukov at a camp from reveille to retreat based on what he himself experienced in the year 1937. The work impresses so much because it is a portrayal with extraordinary vitality and thoughtfulness of its characters. One feels that only the author's personal experiences can lend the story its sense of authenticity. As a result of the violation of Soviet legality, people were put to camps and had to undergo severe physical and moral tests under extreme circumstances. That's why Shukhov's "ordinary" day arouses in the reader the feeling of pain for the fate of the people who rise up before us so vivid and so near. Yet the author's unique skill lies in the fact that the bitterness and pain are not rendered by a feeling of hopeless depression but by the profound humanity and solidarity of the inmates. The author shows that even in such a grim place as a Soviet camp there is room for humour, hope and feelings. Finally Solzhenitsyn being a first class stylist, his novel is written in the colourful and lively language in which folk metaphors are mixed with camp jargon.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Fellow reviewers on this site have spoken at length about the accuracy and historical relevance of the portrayal of the Soviet Gulag system in _One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich_. They have detailed the harsh conditions, the complex mechanics of survival in the Gulag, the terror of Stalin's government, and the 'harrowing' experiences of the zeks - the slang term for the Soviet Gulag prisoner. I concur with all of these observations, but I would like to provide the potential reader with a view from another angle.

_One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich_ is uplifting. It is a story of the transcendent quality of the human will that allows one not only to survive, but to _live_ in the most adverse of situations. The protagonist, Shukhov, shows little fear, little pain. Instead he shows that a slave laborer can retain enough dignity to show pride in his workmanship, compassion for his fellows, and a drive to carry on.

Throughout the story Shukhov is creating. He sews, builds a wall, fashions illicit tools. And though these things help ensure his survival, his ongoing occupation in these activities and his investment of himself in them shows what a basic part of humans the creative impulse is. For Shukhov, creating does not save his life, it is his life.

In this world, there are people whose words are clear and inspiring, tempered with insight gained through adversity - the kind of adversity so severe that no person would choose to place themselves amongst it. Imprisonment, danger, fear of death. Solzhenitsyn is one of these; the wisdom he offers to us has already been bought and paid for. We others are fortunate enough to be lent what these people have to offer - those who have had no choice but to be there, and have lived to write about it. And if ever we find ourselves in a similar kind of adversity, we can remember what they have taught us, and know that adversity can be endured.

Some say that life is suffering. The story of the zek shows me in suffering, there can be life. The story reminded me of how comfortable my life is and how trivial my concerns can be. The author's style and the skill of the translation (I refer to the H.T. Willetts translation, ISBN 0374521956) make this book accessible to everyone. This is fortunate, because everyone can benefit from the message to be found in _One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich_.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
danielle lustgarten
This was a good read, not a great one, but an interesting one at that.
A chilling historical look at a way of life that many had to endured due to the effects of war, and the survival of the fittest within the confines of a Siberian labor camp.
Ivan Denisovich tells us about a "Good" day in this life that he's been sentenced 10 years to unjustly. He was an innocent man beaten to within inches of death when he signed a confession of treason to save his own life.
Reveille was tapped out by a stick, on windows covered with two fingers thick ice, and on this particular morning the outside temperature was a mere 37 below zero, not cold enough to call work off for the day. It had to be 40 below for that event to take place. Clad in foot rags and wet felt boots, trousers, jacket, a hat, and makeshift mittens, the men fell out into the darkness of the beginning day in formation to be counted. Once hopefully, if the guards got the count right the first time, which didn't seem to happen very often. They survived on a watery soup. If one was lucky, he might find a bit of a potato, or even a remnant of fish in his bowl. For the most part, it appeared as dirty dish water, littered with discarded fish bones, which were welcomed by it's diner as they sucked on them to get whatever bits they could from them. Along with this they were served a 200 gram ration of bread. Then it was off to whatever work detail they were assigned to for the day. Today they would be fortunate, they would be laying a block wall. Inside work, which they were grateful for seeing they would be sheltered from the extreme bitterness of the flesh cutting winds that blew outside. The harder your worked for your foreman, measured by the amount of work accomplished, the unit would be rewarded with extra food portions. So needless to say, the survivalists kept on the backs of the slackers to ensure their fair share, which kept tension tight between the men.
Ivan paints a very descriptive portrait about the men that he shared this life with, the pathetic camp conditions they overcame, and the hopes and dreams, both lost and found.
I was a bit taken back when I realized this all took place in the 1940's, not so very long ago at all. It just seemed too barbaric for the era.
I have to say this is a good historical piece, as well as a look at the human nature's fight to survive. It's a quick read, and worth taking a look at.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
irene voyles
Solzhenitsyn wrote this terse account of a prisoner's single day in the gulags in 1962. Amazingly it was published in an obscure Soviet literary review, in spite of its overt criticism of the totalitarian system. After much government discussion, some involving the Politburo, publication was allowed and Solzhenitsyn became an internationally known and respected author. Later he moved to Vermont and then returned to post-Soviet Russia. I have not read his later works, much of it focused on WWI, but re-read Day in the Life for the first time in 30 years.

Like the author, Ivan is a prisoner in a Siberian work camp in the 1950's. In the one day captured in this short novel, Ivan performs very well, leading his construction crew to a record performance, and is rewarded with extra rations.

The total and complete despair and penury of the camps permeates every hour. Prisoners take great pleasure in minor victories such as soup actually containing protein (albeit fish bones), a shelter to block the wind when the temperature falls to -40, or standing near someone who is smoking and getting the residual tobacco from his cigarette holder.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What an incredible book! It is a short one day read with no chapters and literally details one day in the life of a prisoner of the Gulag from waking up until giving thanks at night. If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to take each day one hour at a time this is the book for you. We are given just a brief insight into what life was like for the prisoners but I imagine that no book could truly tell their tale and have any of us truly understand. That said, this book does as good a job as could be done. The bitter cold, the cruelness of the guards, and the cruelness of the other prisoners are all detailed here. It is hard to imagine anyone living that way for 8 or more years and for that reason it is truly a testament to how we are able to survive and cope. I didn't want to put it down once in fear that I would miss what would happen next. By just concentrating on one day we are given insight without being overwhelmed and we are given just enough information to make us horrified and curious but still wanting more. I would recommend this book to anyone and not just an history buff as the story runs very well. I just purchased "The Gulag Archipelego" and cannot wait to read it too!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
agent m
This small work helped wake the West to the long oppression of the Soviet Gulag. It would be followed years later by the author's major work describing that Gulga Archipalego in great detail. This work tells the story of one day in the life of a prisoner. But that one day in its dreariness and monotony, in its small battles for survival, tells the story of a whole world. The cold, the hunger, the sickness, the pain all are parts of the struggle. But the struggle with the world without, the oppression of the world without are only part of the prisoner's struggle. The struggle within himself in which he finds a kind of freedom which no one outside can take from him, is another theme of the play. The person who others might think of as least free is free in his soul. This is one of the great themes of Russian prison literature from Dostoevsky to Solzhenitzyn. This work asks the question of what true freedom is , and what the real meaning of our life and struggle is. It also historically is a step in and toward the demise of that vast prison called the Soviet Union. This is both a work of true literature then and an important historical document.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alex andrasik
This is not an easy book to read--but it's one of the greatest novels I've ever read. Readers who are familiar with the works of other Russian authors (e.g., Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, etc.) will probably more readily appreciate "August 1914" than those who are picking up a Russian novel for the first time. Indeed, I found this novel reminiscent of Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Just as Tolstoy painted a masterful picture of Russian life during the Napoleonic Wars, so Solzhenitsyn paints an unsurpassed picture of Russia on the eve of the Great War 100 years later. Of course, Solzhenitsyn is far less concerned with faith and religion than Tolstoy was--political philosophy is more in Solzhenitsyn's focus.

"August 1914" almost seems to be an appeal by Solzhenitsyn across the years to countrymen long dead, to warn them of the disastrous war and revolution about to overtake them largely because of their own folly. Solzhenitsyn's antipathy for the subsequent Soviet regime is well known. His mockery (in "August 1914") of the revolutionary "intelligentsia" on the Left--for their eagerness to destroy without having an understanding of how to build--is none too subtle, although he does not deny the revolutionaries their opportunity to argue their point of view in the novel. (Ironically, many on the Left were among the earliest victims of the Bolshevik monster they did so much to unleash.)

The autocrats and reactionaries on the Right do not escape his scorn either. The unwillingness (or inability) of the Tsar and his ilk to face the realities of a changing world must of course also be held responsible for the cataclysm about to engulf Russia. But we see Tsar Nicholas II as more than just an empty-headed martinet--instead he comes across (in the latter part of the book) as a well-meaning but indecisive man, who cared deeply for Russia and her people...yet had no idea how to govern as an effective monarch (much less an enlightened one).

In the course of the novel we meet the one man who might have saved Russia--now largely forgotten--Pyotr Stolypin, Prime Minister of Russia from 1906 to 1911 (and arguably the greatest statesman Russia ever produced). Despised on the Left for his heavy-handed (but effective) tactics against revolutionary groups, and derided on the Right for his never completed program of reforms designed to move Russia progressively into modernity (politically and economically), Stolypin was mourned by few on either side when he was assassinated and killed, a victim of the apathy of a clumsy bureacracy and one misguided terrorist. Solzhenitsyn probably does more to mark Stolypin's proper place in history than any other work I've yet seen in English. The heart of the novelist is clearly broken over what might have been for Russia.

It must be said that "August 1914" is a lot more than simply a vehicle for reviewing the political torment of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century. Solzhenitsyn also gives us an amazingly vivid portrayal of the action and confusion of the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg in the opening month of World War I. I'm not sure any other author, writing without the benefit of actual experience in the conflict that is his subject, has ever produced a more realistic "you are there" feel to his narrative of terrifying battle and mundane army life.

Note that there is a map at the back of the book for helping to keep track of placenames. Also be forewarned that characters will disappear for very long stretches and then re-appear without warning. This is not atypical of long Russian novels--which, at 896 pages, "August 1914" certainly is. Yet if you are at all intersted in Russian history--and would like to read an "insider's" novelization of how "modern" Russia came to be--then I think you will find this book worth the time.

Now, on to "November 1916"...!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Perhaps only a day in Ivan's life but it took twenty-seven days of mine to finish this story. It was a laborious read for me but not as laborious as a day in a Soviet labor-camp. As I plowed through the book and the multitude of atrocities and hardships encountered by the prisoners I was shocked not by the camp conditions or the prisoners' treatment but by my lack of shock by the conditions and treatment. This is scary and will require a bit of soul searching to better understand if it's my familiarity with what prison life is like - you can barely channel surf the tube these days without landing on some show featuring prison life - or a general indifference produced by my knowledge of and daily exposure to the hardships that people all over world have to endure every day. At the time of publication, I'm sure "A Day in the Life . . . " was a powerful testament to life within the communist camps, unfortunately it may not be that different from prison life today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
If you have never read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, then perhaps you should. It is not a thriller. It will not keep you on the edge of your seat.

It will hold you captive however when you realize that for those caught in the Gulag system, every day, moment or second was one lived on the edge, and fraught with danger. The myriad of little details could only come from one who had lived under this system.

You can feel the hunger and desperation in the book, when one man goes missing at the work-site, his fellow prisoners wondering how it will all shake out, and will they all be punished.

The Captain's story is especially poignant. Once a man of power and prestige, now a Zek like the rest. When he is taken to the cells at the stories end, we like the Zeks do not know why or for what infraction. Although likeable he will soon be forgotten as the focus is on getting through the next day.

The book is mild, as it only shows one day, and is not even horrific. Rather it is tense and terse.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mary helene
This is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. But then the vast majority of 135 reviewers have said the same thing, and you don't need to hear it again from me. My purpose here is to call attention to another book that readers of Solzhenitsyn's book don't seem to be aware of, but which deserves to be equally well known. That book is "A World Apart" by Gustaw HerlingA World Apart: Imprisonment in a Soviet Labor Camp During World War II. The book records the experiences of a Polish prisoner in a Soviet labor camp who was imprisoned by the Soviets for the crime of fighting against ... the Nazi German invaders of Poland in 1939 (remember, at that time the USSR was allied with Hitler). If you are impressed by Solzhenitsyn's work, I guarantee you will find Herling's book fascinating and horrifying as well.
Personally I'd get the Herling book before "The Gulag Archipelago", which is what the store is promoting along with this book.
PS. Another book that I'd recommend by a Polish author on the subject of the Soviet Union is Ryszard Kapuscinski's "Imperium" - also a must-read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
THEME: Personal struggle for survival in a Stalinist concentration camp. A more literal translation of the title from the Russian would be "The Day Of Ivan Denisovich". This "one day" is seen through the eyes of the hero Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a humble peasant who during WWII was captured by the Germans. After his escape he came back to the Russian lines where he was arrested, accused of being an enemy spy (forced by Soviet counterintelligence officers to sign his own "confession"), and sentenced to ten years hard labor.
The story follows the routine details of Shukhov's life: jolted out of a frozen slumber at 5 a.m.; a breakfast of slop and boiled gruel with fish skeletons floating next to rotten cabbage leaves; roll call in the polar frost, followed by a ravenous-dog-escorted march to work where prisoners mix cement and build walls in the utter desolation of the Northern steppe. The author's depiction of this ceaseless slavery is literally mind-numbing.
On the way back to the barracks the men are meticulously searched for anything they may be attempting to smuggle in. Shukhov privately revels over a piece of wire and a string that he has managed to sneak past the guards. After all, who knows how vitally necessary these items may be "one day"! At the end of this particular day's near-deathly labor, Shukhov actually feels fortunate that he has managed to finagle an extra bowl of skeleton soup, get some shreds of tobacco, and keep from being thrust into solitary confinement for any one of the million minor offenses of the camp. The story ends: "The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one. Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three were for leap years." The final point reminding us of the Gulag system's merciless punitive accuracy. A world of no parole... and no reprieve.
The reader is chilled by this book. It is shivering. Do we pick up anything by Solzhenitsyn for its "warmth and fuzziness"? Most definitely not. We pick him up to come face to face with mankind's capacity to methodically inflict cruelty and despair upon others. In the process, we are always afforded a very important glimpse of what those "others" can endure. And we set Solzhenitsyn down, thankful that we are none of his characters... even as we realize that some very real people (including the author himself) did not have that luxury.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It's not a fast paced, exciting read; rather it's a witness to the daily struggle to minimize the pain of his situation. It's reads like a dystopian novel and is great insight to the lengths at which totalitarian regimes can control its people.

The book itself isn't that interesting (though the fact that this day represents the typical monotonous day over the past 8 years of his life is quite interesting), but what it represents is fascinating: one of the methods of totalitarianism crushing the spirits of its people is arbitrary imprisonment for essentially an undermined amount of time into a situation that is more like torture than anything else. Increasing the power of this book is that not only did this occur (as it did to the author of this book), but it continues to occur today (particularly in North Korea).

I think it is a quality read for most to give some historical perspective, particularly people who are interested in 20th century history, dystopian novels and various forms of authoritarian/totalitarian governments.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book is possibly a more important historical document than a work of literature, especially when read in translation. This is the story of a single, ordinary day in the life of a labor camp prisoner in Stalin's Russia. The narrative is involving as it has that quality of documenting detail on which the character's survival depends, the way Dafoe documented Crusoe's life. You don't have to know very much about Russia or history to read this book. It is an account of simple human survival in the harshest and most dehumanizing conditions. Its honest, raw language and first-hand source places it into the tradition of modern realism. Ivan Denisovich is not out to teach us something about human resilience, only the desire to live. He is not out to make a profound political statement, since conclusions can be easily made by the reader. The conditions of life Solzhenitsyn depicts are so injust and harrowing that the reader has little choice but to denounce the regime which enacted such terror. In the end, this is a story of the simplest instinct of survival under the most artifical conditions of bondage.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
master kulgan
There are a couple of things about this book that stand out. First, its ability to give you a real sense of presence. You can really feel yourself in that prison camp with Ivan. You can really feel yourself AS Ivan. A great novel brings you into the mind of the main become one with him while reading it.
Second, its ability to throw you off. In more ways than one, this book strays from the usual, the expected, the standard way of writing. You often find yourself going back to the previous sentence, wondering how it managed to jump to the following sentence. The author takes you from one event to another down the road in an instant. It can get confusing, but it really is creative and keeps you on your toes. It also throws you off because it tricks you into believing that youre reading a novel when in fact you are following the mind of a man. The mind thinks much quicker and deeper than the common novel. The author has succeeded in bringing us through the mind of Ivan in a compelling way....he has managed to put into words how the common man thinks. You often find yourself thinking "hey, i was just taken through Ivan's thought process without even knowing it"...i dont know how to explain it any better than that. Just read it for yourself and get ready for a journey. A significant book, for sure. Oh...why not 5 stars? Because 5 stars are left for Dostoevsky and his counterparts that write beyond what is unthinkably possible.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The recent press surrounding the death of Solzhenitsyn prompted me to seek out his written works, and decided to start with this, his first book. Drawn from his own time spent in Soviet Gulags, Solzhenitsyn paints a frightening picture of a single day in the life of a typical prisoner as he tries to avoid the wrath of both the guards and his fellow inmates from dawn to dusk.

Incidently, the events surrounding the publication of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" are as eye-opening as the book itself. First published in 1962 with the express permission of then premiere Nikita Khrushchev, it was only two years later that the new regime took offense to the book, not only ceasing publication but prompting Solzhenitsyn's declaration as a "non-person" within the Soviet Union. Undaunted, Solzhenitsyn continued writing in secret, producing several other works (which I happen to be reading now!).

If you've any interest in Soviet history and literature, this seems to be a great place to start.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sam barrett
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn dominated the Russian literary scene in the second half of the 20th century and went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

However, his challenging subject matter, enormous breadth and detail of his coverage of the decades of Stalinist terror make for a tough read at times.

I have tried to read some of his main works, such as August 1914, Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago, several times but gave up as I simply did not have the staying power.

For this reason, I would recommend One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, especially to newcomers to Solzhenitsyn.

It is very short, straight to the point and gives an almost documentary account of a single day in the life of a former Russian soldier called Ivan Denisovivh Shukhov, who is in the eighth year of a prison sentence with another two years to go.

There is no preaching, sentiment or self-pity in the description of Shukhov and the dozens of other innocent men locked up in degrading conditions and forced to work as slave labor.

The measured tone and small victories Shukhov wins as he struggles against the odds give the book an almost optimistic tone as though Solzhenitsyn knew that such an inhuman society could not survive forever.

The ending is poignant: "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."
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
melike aydin
Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn's ("A.S.") August 1914: The Red Wheel paints a marvelous portrait of Russia at the crossroads of the 20th century. By way of background, I read David Remnick's Resurrection about Russia's post -USSR struggles. Remnick writes a beautiful chapter on A.S., his life, his exile, Western Europe and the U.S. intelligentsia's dismissive treatment of him, and his return to Russia. Reminick's extraordinary discourse on A.S. is the perfect prelude to this work because it allows the reader to view the work with a greater respect for the man and his vision. The work itself is compelling in its own right. Some have suggested that it would be helpful to have some background knowledge of the events leading up to W.W. I, the revolutionary ferment enveloping Russia between 1901 and 1917, and the "players' involved in that process. Fair enough comment, but not essential. The reader should not be scared off from this work merely because he/she does not consider themselves particularly knwoledgeable aout Russia. A.S.'s descriptions of the Battle of Tannenburg, the life and times of Stolypin and Bogrov, his assassin ,make for both beautiful writing and a deeper understanding of the events the made the October revolution a foregone conclusion. Finally, A.S.'s focus on the disastrous Battle of Tannenburg sheds great light on a critical battle that has not been more than cursorily examined by eminent historians such as Maritin Gilbert or even Winston Curchill in his classic World Crisis. My sole disappontment was with A.S.'s use of what may be called the 'camera-eye' or multi-media type inserts. It seemed stale compared to its breathtaking freshness when used by Dos Pasos in his U.S.A.. trilogy. It also seemed to detract from the beauty and flow of the writing itself. (Looking back, Dos Pasos didn't suffer from the distraction.) The reader with any interest in Russia, world history, military history, or just plain good literature should seriously consider reading this work.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jack ophof
For anyone who has not yet read anything by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, this particular book is a very good first choice. It's both shorter and less complicated than other of his great works such as THE CANCER WARD and THE FIRST CIRCLE. I read this book in one day sometime during the spring of 1976 and I have never forgotten it. Having read it, I felt shamed for ever having thought myself in any way deprived.

For those who have read this book and who appreciate its testimony to our common human capacity for spiritual triumph in the face of almost unimaginable physical and psychological distress, I'd also highly recommend ALEXANDER DOLGUN'S STORY. Dolgun was a young American living in Stalin's U.S.S.R. who in 1948 was picked up by the MGB, the secret police, and carted off first to prison and then prison camp. He spent eight years as a prisoner and was, according to Solzhenitsyn, the only person the great author ever knew to have survived detension in the infamous Sukhanovka.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
leigh denny
A chilling account of life in a Siberian forced labor camp, it's amazing that this novel was even allowed to be published in the post-Stalinist era of the Soviet Union (it was later banned). "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" provides a stark account of life stripped to the essential need to survive in the foreboding tundra. Yet, it is not the weather that proves most oppressive, but the capricious cruelty of the Soviet guards and the system that supports them.

Sukhov, a.k.a. Ivan Denisovich, is a faceless number, one who escaped as a P.O.W. from German soldiers, but was labeled a spy. Although he is a model prisoner, he always expects a return for his generosity. Every thing he does in the camp is calculated to benefit him. Although he does not exploit the other prisoners, his self-interest consumes him. Only the selfless Baptist, Aloysha, shows that true generosity expects nothing in return. However, Sukhov cannot be blamed for having this attitude, for this is the only way he can survive his indefinite stay in the prison camp.

Undoubtedly, this novel has shades of "1984", as the real incarnation of Orwell's Big Brother state was the Soviet Union. As in "1984", reality is malleable and can be twisted into any form desirable. Otherwise innocent P.O.W's are determined to be spies, and they must confess, regardless of the real truth. Soviet decree can declare that the sun is highest at 1:00 PM instead of noon, and it must be so. The prisoners are captive to this new Soviet "truth" and must adjust their lives to fit it. One's survival is dependent upon the acceptance of their "truth" and reality.

The Soviet ideal of collectivism and common good are best displayed in the prisoners. Their camaraderie and cooperation is apparent as they work in the bitter cold, sub-freezing temperatures. Yet, their prime motivation is to avoid further punishment, as their fear of reprisal proves the most efficient motivator. Ironically, the Socialist ideal can only be achieved in a forced, oppressive environment, for freedom brings free choice and the desire to be achieve more than one's peers.

This novel shows how even the most meager of necessities, such as a small piece of stale bread, can be treasured and savored. Sukhov makes the best of his situation and shows how ingenuity and his survival instinct can make even the most horrid conditions bearable. Although the Soviet Union has been relegated to the ash heap of history, this novel provides a great insight to the horrors of a tyrannical government and the frightening potential of its unchecked power.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
One Day in the Life is a powerful book and a reminder to all of us on how to overcome personal struggles. Every year, I make it a point to read this book to relieve Ivan's day at the prison camp. Following his morning routine, reading about how he would rather work then go to the infirmary despite having a fever, and observing the progression of the day is very interesting. Furthermore, reading the little nuances of camp life and how little things can dramatically impact each person life is fascinating. This book is a valuable reminder of Russian work camps under Stalin's regime and it is part of history that many people have overlooked or forgotten about.

Whether you are interested in learning about a part of Russian History or learning more about human struggle, One Day in the Life os Ivan Denisovich is a worthwhile read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nalin lalwani
This novel by Solzhenitsyn is a classic to me. There are over 100 reviews here and its easy to see why the clear majority give it 4 or 5 stars. If I recall correctly, this is the book that launched his literary fame...
I won't discuss the plot since its been heavily reviewed. But I'd like to share my thoughts on why this book is important:

The Gulag was poorly known outside of the USSR until "One Day" was published. The book is sort of autobiographical; Alexandr used his own Gulag experiences to form the plot. Its not a book with a deliberate "hopelessness" theme, but it does revolve around the fatalistic, dealing-with-reality attitude of one Zek's (prisoner) life in the vast labor camps, and how he can only survive by giving up the future and living day to day. That's the major theme...(by the way, a similar theme is found in the book "All's Quiet on the Western Front" but with some differences and in a much different setting of course...)
Protagonist Ivan Denisovich never "gives up" on life - rather he resigns himself to his 10-yr sentence of labor and loss of identity as, presumably, millions of other peasants were forced to do. The ingratitude and indifference of the State to his past service and patriotism is as cold as the weather he describes...

Its a significant book in that it brings the lives of these mistreated and largely innocent masses down to a personal level. This is important for younger readers today who have no sense of what communism turned into (the Russia version, which was corrupted early on from the "workers paradise" utopia that the original communist/socialist philosophers were seeking). I recall visiting Germany in the early 1980s and seeing security guards at the airport - always in pairs, and always with automatic weapons; an image that disappeared with the breakup of the USSR (or at least, disappeared until 9/11 terrorism; I don't know if that level of security is back now)... My point is, we've forgotten some of the impact the Cold War had on both sides back then, an impact the younger generations can't identify with. "One Day in the Life of ID" helps to re-understand at least part of those days, especially from the side of the "enemy".

This book touches on everything from modern state slavery, human rights, impersonal politics, personal survival, the role of "Big Brother" and gov't in our lives - all through the eyes of one simple guy in a vast, "collective", crude, bureacratic "people's" system.

Its an easy read, great for non-academic people who don't have the time to read his other more involved books, and I think it ought to be required reading at some level in our secondary schools. Unfortunately, I suspect instead it may eventually slip into obscurity, which will be a loss.

Solzhenitsyn can be self-righteous (and tends to exagerate, IMO) in some of his later works - but this first one resonates. I highly recommend it, esp for someone with limited time to read political stuff from that era.

(ps - the Signet paperback copy I have has a nice artwork cover, a watercolor of an indistinct man standing behind barbed wire, but you can see his eyes and face).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Forty-year-old forced labor camp worker Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, aka prisoner number S-854, heads out to work eight years into his sentence on a cold day in January 1951 as the novel begins. A bit under the weather, he tries to avoid work by getting one of the two permitted sick call slots. But with his temperature a virtually normal 99.2 degrees, he resigns himself to another day working in the frigid northern Siberia weather. "The air was 17 below, he was 99 above. The battle between them was on." During the prisoner's day, the story of which Introduction author Jacques Katel writes, "It is not a fictional account. The author, for eight years an inmate of similar camps, speaks from knowledge. He speaks the truth," Shukov's swirling thoughts are of a variety of topics: how he became incarcerated in the first place--an escaped German POW who reached his own lines, his countrymen would rather believe he was a spy than a successful escapee, thus he was imprisoned for treason; his fellow prisoners; the food; the work; the weather; the routines of his so-called life. Sounds routine and ordinary, but through the masterful skill of Solzhenitsyn, whose original 95,000 copies published originally in Novy Mir in November 1962 "sold out in a few minutes," even the most mundane happenings, like Shukov's mindful consumption of his meager rations, are brilliant. One Day is a masterful and exceedingly important story. Just as good but many times longer: The Gulag Archipelago. Fantastic short stories on the subject: Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales. Great memoirs: Man is Wolf to Man by Janusz Bardach and Kathleen Gleeson and Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg. Background information on the camps: Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
d bora
This is an interesting little book regarded by many as a classic. It gives a picture of a single day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner in a Russian labour camp under Stalin. As I read this book I found myself thinking, "Sure this is good. It's well written and interesting, but so far it's not powerful or impactful." However this is a book that kind of sneaks up on you and hits you with it's powerful impact right at the end. It's almost like you need to see the whole picture of the day to realise the profound theme which runs through all the little things that happen. You read through the whole day waiting for a climax which never comes. And then at the end of the day you are compelled to look back and realise the focus on the simple things - the joy to be had in work, the value of a crust of bread, a bowl of soup, a good pair of shoes, a favour done for a friend, and a favour received, the value in having one's freedom, even when living in a prison camp, the thankfulness of not becoming sick. It really makes one appreciative of what we have.
"A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The theme of this book is not prison camps: it is nothing more narrow than life itself. And it is almost as rich in characters and stories within stories (here Solzhenitsyn is very like Tolstoy) as life: constancy in love, artistic integrity, the whimspy of fate, literacy in Medieval Novgorod, the prison in the Count of Monte Cristo, snow, how to sew, the law of unintended consequences.
A few major abiding themes run like threads throughout the book, providing unity: First, the life of the "zek," the prisoner in Stalin's camps. Second, loneliness: not just of prisoners longing for a woman or lost loved ones, or of persecuted wives trying to make lives for themselves, but ultimately of each person. Every conversation carries a different meaning for the people involved. The author "gets inside of peoples heads" in an amazing way -- from the janitor Spiridon to the "Best Friend of Counter-Intelligence Operatives," Joseph Stalin himself. Third, and on a deeper level, integrity, both artistic and moral.
Fourth, and I don't know if this was the conscious intent of the author or not, the book reminds us of the unity of Western civilization. Aside from mentions of Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Pushkin, and Lermontov, (which, I might add, also describes the company Solzhenitsyn belongs in, with honor), the book is honeycombed with references to the great thinkers and artists of European civilization -- from the ancient Greeks and the Gospels, to Dante, the Holy Grail, Bach and Beethoven. The Marxist Rubin even quotes Luther. Primarily, no doubt this is a reflection of the fact that the prisoners in the "sharashkas," the top-secret scientific work camps, were educated men, unlike, say, the hero of his shorter novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. (The contrast Solzhenitsyn draws to their well-paid Neanderthal captors is just one form of the irony that is his most distinctive and powerful stylistic weapon. But even the Neanderthals, including Stalin himself, are portrayed not as cardboard villains, but with insight and imagination.) These references also remind us that, as much as Solzhenitsyn has been accused of being a "Slavophobe," as if that were an insult, the Russian culture he loves is an integral part of Western civilization. This iconic dialogue of the ages, similiar to the works of great Chinese painters, also adds another layer of delight to the book.
The final and greatest thread that unifies this work is the idea of achieving humanity, of becoming what a person ought to be, of heroism. The prisoners are poets, eccentric, and philosophers (though there are also scoundrels, and everyone is tempted that way), beaten down by life and the forces of disolution within, trying to preserve their souls, or civilization, from the barbarians who are their masters. In describing the simple heroism of some of his characters, Solzhenitsyn achieves brilliance. In my opinion, First Circle is the greatest of his works, and one of the most powerful pieces of writing of the 20th Century, at least. And it is not about the Gulag, primarily: it is about what it means to be human, and the choices we all face.
Aside from the characters and stories, many of the scenes are wonderful (again like Tolstoy): of Rubin standing in the courtyard at night in the snow when he hears the train whistle, of the party at the prosecutor's house, of the arrest of the diplomat. If life is sometimes too strange for fiction, (and it is) there are also pieces of fiction that seem truer than life. First Circle is a marriage of style and substance made in heaven, or at least, the highest circle of hell.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mary kate
Solzhenitsyn's first book is a stark description of life in a Siberian prison camp. The protagonist, a WWII POW, is accused of spying for the Nazis and sentenced to 10 years of forced labor. The story is at its best in the matter-of-fact approach by which Ivan Denisovich Shukhov describes a typical day. The reader is not subjected to tales of brutality or beatings. Even fears of the effects of countless days in a dehumanizing environment seem to take a back seat to the mundane challenges of daily life in the gulag. Shukhov's description of meal time is a good example: "... their bowl of hot and watery soup without any fat was like rain in a drought. They gulped it down. They cared more for this bowlful than freedom, or for their life in years gone by and years to come."
Solzhenitsyn's message is clear. Humility is easily stripped away under oppressive regimes, and survival becomes the end game. Only the strongest can hope to retain their dignity, and even they will eventually lose that battle as the years go by. "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a great intro to Russian literature, and a poignant account of post-war life in a Stalinist gulag.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kristin m in durham nc
Solzhenitsyn has written for the benefit of the rest of us, a work that recreates the madness that was life under Stalin. The First Circle is a story about what happens when the talents of a nation are wasted because those in power happen to be incompetent men (that tends to be generally the case, except New Zealand). At the heart of it, it is a testament to the power of a free market to value resources and direct them to where they are most valued.

Well, no, not really. Solzhenitsyn is not a capitalist at heart and his work does not disparage communism. It is a non-partisan look at a cross section of society that had to suffer the loss of lives, loved ones and youth. It is about their hope in spite of the circumstances surrounding them.

Solzhenitsyn's earlier work _One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich_ made Soviet society realize the genius that was in their midst. The First Circle cements Solzhenitsyn reputation as one of the greats of modern Russian literature. This book deserves to be in your collection.

Trust me, you will not regret reading this. A definite must read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Stalin gets off easy in the annals of history for his butchery, probably because he fought with the U.S. against Hitler. But this book will make people think a little differently. Stalin was a man who killed nearly 100 million of his own people, ostensibly in the name of security, but the real reason lies in paranoia and power-hunger. This is a tragic story by a man who experienced the same thing. Solzhenitsyn spent time in a Soviet labor camp because he made a derogatory comment about Stalin. But Ivan Denisovich Shukhov's crime is even less. He is captured by Germans in World War II but escapes to Russian lines. Instead of being decorated, he is caught in one of Stalin's witch hunts and is labeled a German spy. He confesses to a crime he did not commit, and is given 10 years hard labor. One Day chronicles his life in the camp. It is a story you will not soon forget. This short volume tells of the back-breaking work, the cruel injustices, and ultimately denounces Stalin. If the book had been published ten years earlier Solzhenitsyn would most likely have been killed. But Krushchev allowed it to be published. Along with Doctor Zhivago it stands as one of the greatest pieces of Soviet Literature ever written, still as powerful today as it was when published in 1962.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
julie m
August 1914 does not strive for the same goals as many war novels, and perhaps should not even be seriously included in that category. I view it as part of Solzhenitsyn's "War and Peace in 1914" and approached it more as a reader of Russian literature than of war novels. Despite the time spent, it is not particularly (or really much at all) concerned with discussing the tactical or strategic minutia involved with the Tannenberg campaign, doing so only to advance the plot, but of trying to capture a sense of the people and times in which it took place.

Aside from the disjointed amalgamation of screenplays and newspaper headlines, the characterizations of many of the actors I found to be not terribly compelling, particularly in light of some of the shades-of-Dostoevsky characters created in other similar Solzhenitsyn works such as The First Circle.

I found myself almost constantly wondering when it was characters doing the talking or Solzhenitsyn saying his own thing from 50 years of hindsight through the characters. This sentiment also contributes to the feeling that the characters lack a certain something present in Solzhenitsyn's other works. This may be an inevitable byproduct of the readers' worldview which is shaped by fame Solzhenitsyn has achieved as a chronicler and critic of the USSR. Nevertheless, this flatness is covered up better in many of his other books.

It feels in many places incomplete and Solzhenitsyn himself has implied as much. It is a pity that it didn't get further than it has, but it is still a valuable piece of literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
... I hate to admit it, but I only read the book because I was desperate for reading material. As an avid reader, I usually have about 5 or 6 library books on my dresser, but not this time. I expected nothing...except maybe boredom. Maybe not.
This is a fantastic book, and I'm glad I did run out of reading material. Before school had been dismissed for the summer, we learned about the Holocaust and similiar genocides. One of these events was Joseph Stalin's concentration camps in the Ukraine. I knew that this book was foreign, but I didn't know that I was going to get a close up look at what I had just read in World History class and was interested about. As the title suggests, the story was about a winter-like day of prisoner Ivan Denisovich...but he is referred to as "Shukov", though it never says why. The beginning is an introduction to the day. A bleak, cold, and seemingly uneventful day for this prisoner who, like many others in the camp, had been imprisoned for bogus reasons. Ivan had been sentenced to 10 years for being a spy, when he had actually been captured by Germans and then escaped alone.
After waking, Ivan begins his normal routine of getting to the Mess Hall for something to eat. He gets stopped on the way, and has to mop the floor of a higher-up. Then he eats his mush and goes to the hospital to try to get out of the days work, to no avail. Thus, starting his workday. Him and the rest of the barracks file out to go to a job site. They trek two miles in the snow to work at laying bricks on an upperlevel building. After a good day of work, they walk back to the compound to try to beat out the other barracks for first group at the mess hall. Of course, everything is brought out in good details. It would be to make a book out of just one day! As Ivan Denisovich lives out this day, which he claims is a good day and you'll see why, he is also nearing the end of his sentence. He isn't confident that they will let him go, though. They could slap another sentence on him or forbid him from going home. Even though he won't be recieving packages or letters from home, he still can have an almost happy day. And he only has three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days left in his sentence...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sidharth kakkar
This was an awesome book--and only a chapter long!
excellent example of fine Russian literature. I read this in high school, so it wasn't too intimidating a read, either.
An average soldier gets put into a work camp during the "do so much as scratch your hand wrong and get sent to a work camp" phase of Russian history. He simply tells what goes on during an average day of his life there. The story begins when he wakes up, and end when he goes to bed. In between, you are introduced to characters who are normal, interesting, and have just as much reason to be in the work camp as Shukhov, the protagonist.
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH was wonderful. Solzhenitsyn did an excellent character study and did a fine job of portraying the senselessness of the work camps and the simplicity of surviving in hopeless circumstances.
Really, really a great read. It's short, sweet, easy to read--and a quality read at that.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read this in English, so I am hesitant to judge the language. Overall, this is brilliant and, at places, even humorous. Economic and evocative, philosophical and full of the senses, with compact and precise characterizations of the players in this particular camp, barrack, etc. - a portrait of the microcosm that can stand for any Gulag.

Since I was already familiar with the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of Gulag life from other books and movies (Shalamov's Kolyma Tales", Amis' "House of Meetings" - which I didn't like - Weir's "The Way Back"), I was looking out for the craft aspects of the book: how was it structured, how did Solzhenitsyn get under the reader's skin. The passage of time is important. Our protagonist Shukhanov tracks the passage of sun and then the moon. There are no clocks available to the prisoners, but he always knows what time it is. The workday is excruciatingly long, and one can survive it only by focusing on surviving the smaller chunks and setting small yet life-saving goals: to get one more minute of warmth, to barter a pinch of tobacco, to get a good drying spot for one's boots on the stove, to get a sick note from the doctor, to get out of the barracks last so you can get back in first, to avoid the guards, to conceal a length of wire during a search, to catch out an empty tray in the cafeteria when it changes hands, to gauge when to share with a fellow zek and when to curse and kick him. These bit goals in the "civilian" world may be trifles, but in the Gulag they add up to the overarching goal - to survive your term, be it ten or twenty-five years.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
john okely
This is a book that I waited a couple months to read simply because of title. To read a book about a particular time exactly 100 years later, just seemed so special. Sure enough, it took me the full month to read and I must say that it was enjoyable, although not the typical summer novel that I like to have at the beach!

It’s an interesting look at World War I because rather than looking at the Western front and Trench Warfare, it’s about the Russian/German front. I think it is a valuable read, although I preferred A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by the same author.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
travis jackson
August 1914
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I remember when my son was little. He would bring me August 1914 and ask me to read it to him. There were no pictures in this book, but he knew that it was a book that I loved. So we would lie on his bed and as I opened the book and read to him about a world he could only discover in a book. Solzhenitsyn is one of my hero?s, a moral voice speaking against the tyranny of Soviet repression. This book about the battle of Tennenberg in August 1914 is not only a brilliant historical novel, but also a critique of the forces that lead to the October Revolution in Russia. Let?s talk about the story, before we continue the review.
The story is about the entrance of Imperial Russia into World War I. War is declared and Russia in its hurry to honor its commitments to France, invades Prussia. Its army under the leadership of General Samsonov is unprepared for war and Russia suffers a humiliating defeat as the army is surrounded and destroyed. The story is told through the eyes of a Colonel Vorotyntsey who alone sees the coming disaster and vainly tries to avert it.
It is a story of an Army that did not understand modern warfare. Samsonov, a cavalry officer, is used to sitting on his horse and viewing the battlefield; this battlefield, however, stretches for hundreds of miles. Communication is non-existent; supplies are scarce. The Germans, however, understood the new technology and were able to listen in on all the Russian communications. Samsonov makes one blunder after another; he is out classed and doesnt know what to do. With his army collapsing around him, he is lost. Lost in a forest, he ends his life with a bullet as he and his staff are attempting to escape the encirclement.
It is a wonderfully written book. One can hear the hoof beats of the charging cavalry, see the sabers glistening in the sun, sense the terror of the soldiers huddle in their trenches as thousands of shells fall around them and smell the cordite as it drifts across the fields. But Solzhenitsyn?s purpose is more than giving us a history of a battle fought long ago, we wants to expose the corruption of a Czarist Russia that lead to an even greater corruption of the Soviet System. This is a novel about truth and the attempt to conceal it. The old Czarist regime and the Soviet one that followed could only survive by the suppression and the corruption of the truth. No wonder that this book was banned in the Soviet Union.
It is a great book; I have read it at least a half dozen times over the years.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read this book in the mid-nineties for my AP English course. I just stumbled across it, no push or anything. We were told to find a book and I don't know how I stumbled across this incredible novel. I need to reread it, which I like to do with my Kindle books, but those are more of the romance/YA types, not the thought-processing novels that I also read. I'm one who jumps genre to genre and lately my mood isn't up to my intellectual ability, but it is a nice escape. However, this book has remained with me and haunted me for years. It was before my time and even my comprehension as a reader, yet it was so precise and sound, though not really with a progressing plot, just the continued day-to-day aspects of jailed life in Hell. The description hooks you, even at 17/18 and especially if you can imagine prisoner life in the Soviet Union. This book is enriching and heart-retching. You pull for Ivan, even though his daily battles seem trivial, when looked at objectively and in circumference, his plot holds accord and is solidly real. It just saddens me to know that people probably realistically did/felt as this fictional character did. I need to go back and re-read, but I can say, as a 33 year-old woman, a professional that didn't major in English, but still graduated with a Journalism degree and has a dear sister that is Ms. Bookworm, this is one story that can't be overlooked. Past, present and future readers need to read this glorious piece of literature. It is truly a shame, to history, to society and especially to those that love books, if they miss out on this masterpiece.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
devadas smitha
I don’t think I missed anything in reading this novella about the hellish existence inside of a 50s-era Soviet prison. There isn’t much to miss, and that’s probably the source of my tepid reaction. Yes, it is a great navel gazing exercise for a momentary slice of perspective, but there are other such books, and any good work of art should be able to provide some type of self-reflection.

With One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the tale was too flat and tedious to do much more than remind me of a) how miserable we can be to one another, b) how strong we can be, and c) how our minds are malleable enough to find hope, beauty, and joy in even the most desperate circumstances. There are nuggets of wisdom, particularly when he qualifies the eponymous prisoner’s definition of “home,” or when the same reflects throughout the story on how our small moments of joy are winnowed through the specifics of our existence. Furthermore, the parallels of the labor camp to Russian existence outside the walls of the prison were depressingly similar in far-too-many ways, and thus, this novel serves as an indictment of much more than Stalin’s labor camps.

Working against things, however, is a clumsy, repetitive, dated, and distracting translation. Perhaps it was fine for the early 60’s when the version I read was published, but it doesn’t work so well now. Incidentally, the Translator’s Notes state that they tried to equate the Soviet slang of the prison world with the English version. I wonder if a more straight-forward and Russian-faithful translation with footnotes wouldn’t have served the reader better.

The lessons to be gleaned from ODITLOID are necessary for a spoiled and self-absorbed America, and they also serve as a constant reminder of the evil and corruption that hound humanity to this day. Yet, this wouldn’t be my first recommendation for someone suffering from too much self-pity or searching for a breathtaking literary accomplishment. Reading the newspaper provides plenty of the former on a daily basis, and I’ve read better novels that have provided the latter.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
[This review is of the Hayward/Hingley translation.]

An amazing book on a couple of different levels, "One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich" brings home the nature of totalitarianism as a dehumanizing force in an off-center, penetrating way that makes it essential reading long after the fall of the regime it ostensibly, bravely criticizes.

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov was a Russian soldier who ran away from the advancing Germans in the early days of Operation Barbarosa, and wound up imprisoned as a suspected spy. Ten years later, he's still in prison, in what is known as a "special" camp where men are routinely underfed and overworked. We join Shukhov at the start of what we learn is a pretty typical day, watch him as he chases after his meager ration, tries unsuccessfully to get a sick day, and works with surprising diligence at a construction project in near-Arctic conditions.

Some reviews here describe this book as an example of lasting human dignity or the virtue of hope. To my light, it is neither. The people in the book behave fairly brutally to one another, while Shukhov seems oddly content in his miserable world, conditioned as he is. There is no "Anne Frank" moment here, a gleaming of insight about believing all people to be good inside or whatever. Shukhov survives because that is all he knows, and survival itself is its only reward.

"It's the law of the jungle here, fellows," he remembers a former gang boss telling him when he first arrived. "But even here you can live. The first to go is the guy who licks out bowls, puts his faith in the infirmary, or squeals to the screws."

"Denisovich" is a remarkable novel for a couple of reasons. First, it dared to criticize the Soviet Union at a time when exposed dissidence, as author Alexander Solzhenitsyn well knew, came at a heavy price. But it was submitted to Soviet authorities and published in 1962 with minimal edits. By then, it was seen as a way of acknowledging the heavy-handed dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, during whose reign the novel is set.

Second, and more artistically, it dared to be something else: A novel without much of a plot. The day we see Shukhov endure is not by any means very eventful. There is a scare here and there, involving others, but very little in the way of direct confrontation. Shukhov isn't even that sensitive a soul, sleepwalking through his rounds and experiencing his misery with a fatalistic shrug that would seem utterly alien were it not so practical. The language, at least in my translation, is very matter-of-fact throughout.

I can't say I loved reading "Denisovich." I found it a dry, enervating experience. Solzhenitsyn is a real detail-maven, going through the rote experience of his typical day in mind-numbing fashion. He writes at length about what amounts to the high point of this day, building a wall, so much so I wondered if I could go outside and build one myself. A more imaginative mind might see in this a metaphor for the society that creates Shukhov's experience, but I think Solzhenitsyn was at least as much carried away by the concrete realization of this fictive world he knew so well from his own prior imprisonment.

It can be exhausting, this little book with no plot and no chapters. But it makes its case well, which is that when a society reduces one's life to such a scale as this, it has failed in a very basic way. It's no wonder Solzhenitsyn fell out of favor with the Soviet regime so soon after "Denisovich's" publication; you can't give voice to human dignity in a small way and not expect the floodgates to open.

Does the book still matter? I think it does. It's a powerful read, all the more for its lack of incident or memorable characterization. It suggests the value of humanity by negative example, and also in the nooks and crannies of simple freedoms and small-scale happiness where Shukhov finds them. He is content because its all he knows; can we be as content knowing what we do?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mike mclemore
I have read Russian literature in the past, but this was the first time I had read anything by Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn died in August of 2008 at the age of 89, and I happened to run across his obituary in the newspaper at that time, which I saved. I was interested to discover that as a young man Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to 8 years hard labor in a Russian labor camp for calling Stalin "the man with the mustache" in a letter to a friend. It was thought the comment was disrespectful. At the time he had been serving on the Russian front with distinction as a combat commander during World War II, and was a staunch Communist. Many years later he was absolved of his crime, but that was long after he had suffered the punishment.
Solzhenitsyn reached the low point of his life while in the labor camp system, and after his release was exiled to a town on the fringe of society where he taught high school science, wrote in his spare time, and where his every move was monitored and controlled by the government. He was 43 when he published his first book, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". Although fiction, Solzhenitsyn called heavily on real life experience to write it. It is the story of an inmate's life in a Siberian labor camp. Because of the book, Solzhenitsyn was plucked from obscurity and thrust into the lime light overnight. The book was only allowed to be published because Khrushchev, who was then the Premier, thought the book would advance his liberal positions, and distance him from the brutal policies of Stalin, which he participated in. By the time Brezhnev took power in 1964, Solzhenitsyn had only published three books, but his freedom to write and speak publicly was drastically curtailed by the new regime. His next and most widely read book, "The Gulag Archipelago" had to be snuck out of the country on microfiche to be published abroad. It is a massive and in depth account of Soviet labor camps. Solzhenitsyn donated all of the royalties from this book to help labor camp inmates and their families.
In the years to come Solzhenitsyn continued to write and speak in defiance of his government. In 1970 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but was unable to travel to accept his award because he feared arrest. In 1974 he was seized and deported, eventually settling in Cavendish, Vermont. He remained in exile for 18 years, living a reclusive existence with his wife and three sons while he continued to write. He was allowed to return to Russia in 1994, where he lived out the rest of his life, forever speaking and writing for the advance of political and social change.
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was significant at the time of its publication. It was the first book that gave a glimpse into Russia's corrupt, inhumane system of punishment, a system that touched everyone in the Soviet Union either personally or through fear. It was estimated that 60 million men entered the dread labor camps in the 20th century. Solzhenitsyn chose to focus on only one day in the life of one man, Ivan Denisovich. Ivan was wrongly accused of treason, for which he received a 10 year sentence at hard labor under deplorable conditions. Most of the men sentenced expected to die before they were released. Ivan's approach was to plod through the misery day by day focusing on doing his bricklaying job with pride, laboring hard throughout the day to keep as warm as possible, living in harmony with the men in his squad, and taking enormous pleasure from a moment stolen for a contraband smoke at the end of the day, or working the complex social system to obtain a rare extra portion of watered down soup. The best part of the day, however, was when he crawled onto the soiled, straw-stuffed, bed bug ridden mattress on his bunk after final roll call and laid his head on his dirty, wood-chip filled pillow. He stuffed his legs inside the arms of his coat for warmth, and curled up under his grimy, thin blanket. He closed his eyes and thanked God for another day done in his sentence, and that he hadn't been thrown in solitary confinement, where conditions were even worse than what he was experiencing.
This was simply an amazing book, written by an amazing man.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hind boodai
One that all it was? Even reading the novel, you feel the exact sameness of the days, how they all blend together in a Soviet workcamp, and how it had to be difficult to keep track of how many days have passed.
This book had a profound impact on me. These types of books make me look at myself a little differently. They make me wonder just how I define what's important in my life, and they make me awe at how easy it would be to redefine "important." For Ivan, what's important is an extra bowl of food, dry gloves, and a little tobacco. But we know, when we read this, that it wasn't what was always important--once upon a time, he had a life.
Simply by becoming a prisoner of war, he's become an enemy of the State; and a prisoner of a much larger war (Stalin's war on his people).
This book is about more than Stalin and more than a workcamp. It's about much more than a day in the life of a single prisoner. It's about humanity, about questioning who we are and what it would take to make us radically different, and yes, about communism and another world.
Read it yourself--and find out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Solzhenitsyn's first published story was printed after Kruscheav's denunciation of Stalin occurred to the Communist Party faithful behind closed doors. During the short period of the Kruscheav era art, literature and criticism was allowed greater leeway. To many it became the story of suffering reflecting their experience's of thousands of survivor's- most of whom were released during the general amnesty's granted after Stalin's death.
"One Day" follow's Ivan through literally one day of his life in a labor camp. Small issues become life threatening- an extra bowl of soup, a boot repair- all of it effects his life in one way or other. A rather simple tale, it contains within itself a world of suffering and hope. To read this is to understand the genesis of Solzhenitsyn's later "Gulag Archipelago" trilogy.
An important and moving tale.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book is a marvelous example of literature. It is written to perfection, with great character and setting descriptions, unique dialogue, and historical importance. While the pacing might be slower for some readers, it's a perfect slice of life book, particularly since Ivan's slice of life is far less than ideal.

Note that you should only buy the first edition. Later translations change certain words so that the overall narrative is weaker and less unique.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ty bufkin
The book's title refers to the first circle of Hell in Dante's Inferno. This is the least oppressive level of Hell. The prison camp described in this book offers plenty of food to the prisoners, no backbreaking physical labor, and a warm bed. Most of Stalin's prison camps are located in Siberia where the prisoners freeze and starve. What accounts for Stalin's leniency? The prisoners are scientists working on top secret projects like a telephone for Stalin's use that can't be tapped, and a system of identifying anonymous voices on public telephones by the voice prints, similar to finger prints. In Stalin's evil country, you are not innocent until proven guilty. You are guilty as soon as you are arrested. One prisoner was put in jail because his neighbors wanted his family's apartment and made up an unsupported lie about him. They got the apartment and destroyed his life and family. Most of the prisoners were WW2 vets, POWs returning from Germany. They weren't welcomed home with appreciation and honor. They were lured home by lies, and immediately imprisoned.
There are many great characters. You'll remember Nerzhin and his wife, and wonder how things will work out for them. You'll remember Rubin, the sincere communist caught in the web of the system he believes in. You'll remember Innokenty Volodin, in trouble for doing a good deed, as innocent as his first name. When you read a mediocre book there are no characters to remember, just a predictable formulaic storyline and a group of people and events you find hard to believe. This is a rare opportunity for you to be a fly on the wall, halfway around the world, observing life in a Russian prison camp. The reason I give it only 4 stars is because I like happy endings and resolved problems. This book would make a good movie. There's plenty of room for a sequel (which hasn't been written) where we can find a satisfactory ending for some of the characters. Stalin the insane sewer rat died eventually and was denounced by Khrushchev, so maybe in time these people were allowed to live out the rest of their lives in freedom.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A must read for students of Russian history, this book appeared in 1962 as one of the products of Kruschev's de-Stalinization program of the 50s and 60s.
The book recounts about an 18 hour period in the life of a common inmate of a GULAG camp, condemned like many of his fellow inmates, for an imaginary crime. Solzhenitsyn's style is simple and understated, drawing the reader into a this bizarre world where inmate, guard, and administrator are all prisoners of the Stalin system. By avoiding shrill tones (the characters are far beyond the point of indignation), S subtly presents a microcosm where the struggle for a cigarette or a place in the dinner line takes on a much larger significance. Not for everyone, this book represents one of the first and most powerful rejections of Stalinist Russia that appeared in mainstream Soviet society.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
erin molnar
There is a saying that today,the day we spent in vain, is the
day which the people,who died yesterday, desperately hoped to
see. We should be fully aware of the value of "one day" reading
this book.
This book describes the overall life in a jail, which is not
better or worse than that of other prisoners. As Ivan is the
most common name of Russia, his life in the jail is as ordinary
as his name. Those who have never been to Russia or read the
contemporary literature might say that the story is too
exagerated. However nothing is a lie of false. This is the
actual life that any Russian prisoner would have overcome at
the time.
All fight for their own life:food. Prisoners are eager to
steal others' bread or soup by instinct in order to survive.
Their goal is to eat as much as possible just to get out of the
jail alive. And that is their life at the same time. The
struggle for a piece-not a loaf-of bread is the survival fight.
It is definitely not because they hate each other or so.
Besides, although the atmosphere is always tense and
oppressed, those prisoners do keep their conscience and care
for others. Perhaps what Dostoevsky tried to tell is that under
the worst circumstances do people still have their own dignity
and humanity. However, we seem to lose them in this very
comfortable and wealthier world.
One day may be very short for ordinary people yet it is so
precious to others, such as to prisoners. While reading, I,
time to time, thought, 'how come a day is so long that it takes
a whole book to describe it?' But as soon as finishing it, I
was surprised that somebody's day could be felt so short to me.
My professor assigned homework in Russian Literature lecture;to
describe 5 or 10 minites from my day. My 5 minutes were
drastically long to write.
In this book hides human breath and dignity, even though it
merely seems to show the horrible, harsh life in jail.
Regardless how hard the conditions are, people would not lose
the dignity that Solzhenitsyn taught us from this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dorian volpe
Perhaps Russia's greatest for the last half century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn painted the picture of Stalin's gulag in this gut-revealing book that catapulted him in the West and became the harbinger to international recognition. In certain aspects , it reminds me of Dostoyevski's HOUSE OF THE DEAD with the extra political touch and spells out what humanity should avoid in the name of ideology that has been perverted.Mirrored in other books like The Union Moujik, Dr Zhivago, the underlying lesson is that Stalinism like other systems before destroyed faith in the Russian soul and sowed that post Soviet reality also wrecked havoc on and which Russia is yet to recover from.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
matt williamson
For the second time in the last fifteen years, Harper & Row (or HarperCollins now), which claims to own the world-wide publishing rights to The First Circle, has stopped printing this magnificent work. They did it once before in the mid-90's. When I protested to them that I could not find copies enough for my students in a Russian literature course, they shrugged me off. Happily, after letting the book languish for two years, they then licensed publishing rights to Northwestern University Press. But according to Northwestern University, Harper will not let them renew the license. Nor is Harper printing the novel. According to my latest phone call to them, they might-- "perhaps as early as winter, 2009." Ironic, is it not, that once censored in his own country, Solzhenitsyn now suffers the same fate because an American publisher, for reasons no one at Harper can explain, will not make it available to the reading public. I am hoping my students will be able to hunt down enough used copies to read it this spring, but . . . . Shame on Harper!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Let's not go here America.

This is a good read. Please excuse the profanity. This is not an emotional book like unto "The Hiding Place", but it is very real. It really is a day in the life of a political prisoner.

I kept on expecting for something grand and horrific to happen. Some big, major, loud, jolting event. Technically those things were happening but Solzhenitsyn seems to talk of it quietly. Openly, honestly, but quietly. The matter-of-fact writing style made the day-to-day seem well, day-to-day, albeit a horrible, cold, life-sapping day-to-day.

A great read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lindsey hawes
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a tough read. While only 140 or so pages it can get pretty dry in parts. But that only adds to the message Solzhenitsyn is trying to deliver through the story of Ivan. The day-to-day routine of a Russian labor camp prisoner during this time period was not only physically challenging, having to perform manual labor on table scraps and harsh environmental conditions, but also mentally. Guards could punish prisoners for anything down to having one too many undershirts even when its 40 degree below zero outside. One Day gives great insight into the struggles of labor camp life and the total disregard for human life and safety that existed in Russia at that time. This book is definitely a good read for history and political buffs. However, if you are interested in a quick, easier to swallow story about wartime I do not recommend One Day.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
katie peters
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's first book is a look into his own past, though we see it all through the eyes of the fictional Ivan Denisovich. In 1945 Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in a concentration camp. Even after his release he was made to live in exile for three years. It wasn't until 1957 that he was "rehabilitated." He moved to Ryazan, married, and became a teacher. In 1962 he made his entrance onto the literary stage with One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich.

Ivan is serving a ten year sentence in a concentration camp. He lives day to day with little thought for the future or the past. It is this day that matters. Survive this day and worry about tomorrow when it comes. This is the story of one day in his life.

This is a story of survival. In a place where it is impossible to get warm, where food is scarce, where no one can be trusted, where hard physical labor in terrible weather is a daily requirement, here in this place Ivan and his fellow prisoners find the will to live despite the odds against them. And the odds are stacked high against them. The shortest term in such a place is ten years. Escape is not an option for there is nowhere to run to except the frozen steppe and certain death.

Above all this is a story of the power of the spirit in the face of utter hopelessness. When forced out into sub zero temperature to work at a construction site nearby, Ivan takes pride in doing his assigned task well. Ivan knows that his ten year sentence could stretch on endlessly. He's seen it happen to others, seen their release dates approach only to be given another ten years in the camps. Still, Ivan is determined to survive and take whatever joy he can out of living.

This is a sad book in its way but also inspiring. And we, the readers, can read with a touch of hope for we know now that men like Ivan were eventually released from the camps. Stalin's terror died with him and Russia freed its imprisoned sons and daughters. And along came Solzhenitsyn to write about it. Lucky us.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nancy barnes
what makes this book worth four stars is as much what is says as what it does not. going into painstaking detail about one day in the life of a prisoner in the gulag - one of like 10,000 days of his prisoner life - this book conjures up a whole world.
at points it was a little tedious and hard to follow, but the main thrust of the roughness of his life just made the journey from cover to cover one worth following.
main plus of the book and thing making it worth reading: snapped me out of my little world for a few hours and made me grateful about how my life is...about my freedom. that guy was a modern slave. and i'm not. like bob marley says: emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds. well, this book helps.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
We read to our teenage sons almost every night. We are currently reading "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch". Our sons (age 14 & 16) have been captivated by Solzhenitsyn's gritty description of Soviet penal camplife. From Shukhov's tough survival skills to Alyoshka's Christ-like prayerfulness in the midst of suffering, "One Day in the Life" offers readers a marvelous cross-section of humanity in the face of tyranny. One note for read-aloud parents: the book is spotted with expletives which are true to the setting and characters but may present difficulties to parents reading aloud to teens. The book doesn't lose a thing to simply excise these from the text as you read.
Parents: for a book on parenting skills and family life spirituality, take a look into "The Family Cloister: Benedictine Wisdom for the Home", by David Robinson (New York: Crossroad, 2000).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
patti sachkiw
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is one of those books that look deceptive. It isn't that long, and it's a little mass-market paperback that would blow away with the wind. Even the cover design really doesn't convey what lies inside. What we have with this book is a worthy contribution to the annals of Russian literature. Solzhenitsyn finds himself in the ranks of Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol with this gripping tale of the Stalinist Gulag system. Solzhenitsyn went on to write a massive indictment of the Gulag system in a three-volume work called, "The Gulag Archipelago." Solzhenitsyn won a Nobel Prize for Literature and found himself exiled, forcibly, from the Soviet Union for his writings. He returned to Russia after the collapse of Communism.
As the title indicates, the story covers one day in Ivan Denisovich's ten-year prison sentence. Ivan is a peasant who runs afoul of the authorities when the Germans capture him during the war. When he finds his way back to the Soviet camp, the authorities charge him with treason and sentence him to the camps. Denisovich is luckier than many of his fellow convicts; they are serving 25-year sentences. This day is better for Ivan than most; he ends up getting a better work assignment, a member of his squad gets a parcel loaded with food, and Ivan manages to get extra food rations. He even scores some tobacco, his only weakness.
Ivan lives day by day; it is the only way he can survive the camps. What is most shocking about this book is the matter-of-fact way in which the story is told. All of life is reduced to acquiring food and staying warm. Following the rules and avoiding punishment is just as important. Woe to the man who ends up in the guardhouse cells for ten days. I was nauseated by how hard Ivan worked on the power plant. Here's a guy who is a prisoner, forced to lay bricks in the middle of winter, and he is busting his hump to do a good job. But in a way, this can be uplifting, too. Ivan refuses to give up to the brutality of his condition. Every day is a struggle, but Ivan never grouses or causes problems. He accepts everything camp life throws at him and triumphs. You get the impression that Ivan is going to make it out of the camp no matter what.
This is an excellent book that exposes the real face of Communism. No matter how brutal Communism is (or was) as a system of government, it failed to crush the spirit of humanity. I recommend reading this book in conjunction with Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon," another book that exposes the sickness of Communism.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
renee bowser
Solzhenitsyn powerfully paints a shadowy picture of Siberian work camps during the Stalinist era. The main character, Shukov, is a powerful symbol of the courage of the human spirit in the midst of hopelessness and cruelty. This book is essential reading for anyone, especially those of us who have grown accustomed to living in a society that espouses liberty and freedom of expression. There are great lines that express only what a survivor of a prison camp could know. "Let your work warm you up, that was your only salvation" or "how can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold?" Solzhenitsyn also captures the consequences of a society's loss of God and the dehumanization that closely follows, "As for the Russians, they'd forgotten which hand to cross themselves with." The author holds the reader captive to the story, making him or her feel like a cell-mate with Ivan Denisovich. This is a master work on the psychology of survival. Reading about one day in a prisoner's life will forever change how you live each day of your life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rachel hensler
This book is great for anyone who enjoys learning history through unorthodox and enjoyable manners. My father, a man with a hunger for history, gave this book to me in order to encourage my interest in history.

Solzhenitsyn uses his own personal experience to make a fascinating synecdoche of the atrocities created by the USSR's government. This book teaches, in detail, the Soviet Union's gulag system in a way that differs from the orthodox method used in American high schools.

Other than the history lesson, the book also provides an interesting "Day in the Life" of a man in a work camp.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
adam stokes
This is Solzhenitsyn's literary representation of Stalin's Siberian camps. The mood of the story is very defeatist; the main character, Ivan, has accepted his position and does not rebel against it. Although there were definitely groups of 'zeks' (prisoners) that were rebellious to the end, such prisoners are not mentioned here.
The story follows Ivan from the opening call until he shuts his eyes at night. The events depicted are not very exciting, showcasing how trying prison life was. Probably the most exciting incident is when Ivan is nearly caught trying to bring part of a blade back into the camp.
One can sympathize with Ivan for he is actually innocent. He is a POW accused of being a spy for the German army. He knows that even if he managed to escape the guards' guns, he would not survive in the Siberian wilderness; thus, he must tough out his ten years in the camp.
He takes delight in simple things like getting an extra bowl of stew at lunch and a drag from a cigarette from one of his fellow inmates. It's also interesting how the zeks are more loyal to those prisoners closer in rank to themselves than the guards.
Unless you are taking a class on Stalinist Russia or have a deep interest in Russian literature, I recommend not reading this book. I don't believe that it is the best representation of great Russian literature. Solzhenitsyn's style is very base, fragmented and aggravating. It's quite apparent that writing was a second occupation; he was first a mathematician. Only read this book if you want to know how depressing Stalinist camp life was. If you want great introductory Russian literature I recommend Dostoevsky's 'Notes from Underground.' It is about the same length as this work, but the style is much more crisp and connected.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maria dorfner
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn stands as a classic of contemporary literature. It describes a Russian soldier who has been wrongfully accused, his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression during the madness of World War II, as a he is wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to 10 years in a an unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, a Siberian labor camp. As it begins, this masterpiece of modern Russian fiction is an account of a man who has conceded to all things evil with dignity and strength. First published in 1963, it is considered one of the most significant works ever to come from Soviet Russia. Showing us a dark chapter in Russian history, Ivan Denisovich is a graphic picture of work camp life and a moving tribute to a man's will to endure over relentless dehumanization. This novel is a must read and should be read, for its historical value as it is a tribute to those who were imprisoned and their voices were never heard. This novel was by far the most emotional novel I have read. Regardless of the lack of emotions Ivan Denisovich was able to portray to me I was able to understand the cruelness of the work camps as the guards treated the workers with no respect. For the novel I had no dislikes because to me I felt the novel was an amazing read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stefanie ranghelli
After "The First Circle" being incomplete yet still one of my favorite books I am completely statisfied to now get the whole uncut "In The First Circle". Solzhenitsyn has informed my political views & values of freedom for the past 20 years, but his humanity far exceeds that, he was truly a great writer who should be read by every man & woman 18 years or older. We could avoid repeating the tragedies of the past by reading and learning from both his fiction and nonfiction. Alexsander's voice resounds for freedom, dignity, compassion, and endurance of the human soul which does not have to give in to tyrrany if one sees the eternal that exists past the here & now.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I love this book. Ivan Denisovich is a symbol of bravery of the human spirit in despair. This story is necessary for all of us who used to the living in a society that supports freedom. The images of the Siberian camps in the Stalinist era are disturbing but impressive. There are many powerful outlines that express what a prisoner has to do in order to survive. Solzhenitsyn captures the society's dehumanization masterly. I was arrested in this story, making me feel as if I am Ivan Denisovich's cellmate. This is a masterwork on the psychology of continued existence. Reading about Ivan's life changed how I live each day. My uncle met Solzhenitsyn in CT. Great man. I wish I met him. He is one of my idols.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
diane mccarrick
This book was a protest book about Stalin and the terror that he inflicted the land with. This was a book that never would have been written with out Khrushchev's apporval and the CCCP's go ahead. This was an attempt to show the world that the Russian people were people and not shady, shifty eyed people bent on world occupation and subjecting the world to Stalinistic views. That all this was and all it will ever be. It doesn't try and change the literuary landscape with his description of one day in the life of a man. It is a protest book! It proclaims to the world and to its nation of birth that the man Stalin was just as evil as Hitler was and it was a shame that this nation had to live in fear of thier own neighbors.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
evelin burns c
I was first introdced to Solzhenitsyn's works when I was a freshman in high school, far too many years ago in a little town. The book was the Volume 1 of The Gulag Archipelago. It was really an eye-opener for me in so many ways, given that it was the first "really serious" book that I'd read.
I believe that Solzhenitsyn is the best writer of the 20th century, or at least he's the top writer I've read so far (and I've read a lot of books). Maybe that's influenced by my early exposure, but I don't think so; I find his works just as compelling now as I did then.
The First Circle is one of his most "accessible" works (that is, you can just jump in and start reading) and probably one of his best. A very compelling story; his portraits of the various vile creatures of the Soviet government have been shown to be quite accurate, and the way the various plots intertwine and are resolved is wonderful.
The First Circle gives great insight into a culture totally foreign to most US citizens, as the book's a mixture of spy novel, guide to life in a Gulag camp, and brief introduction to Soviet society of the 1950s. A depressing place to be sure, but fascinating. Well worth reading.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kim klukan
If you liked "Brave New World," or "1984," you'll like "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." The main character, Ivan, is imprisoned in a Soviet Labor camp, where he works everyday. It shows how their lives are run in a totalitarian manner. It shows how they must survive under totalitarian rule. There are things in this camp that are accepted, where in normal society they would be morally rejected. People have no second thoughts towards stealing and bribery. They do what they must to survive. When near nothing is given to them, they do what they must in order to live. The Soviets place no value on their lives for they are expendable. Ivan's day of survival will move you and make you happy that you're not in a Soviet Labor camp on the steppe.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kristin nabors
A short, sharp, plain-spoken novella that focuses intensely on the details of a day in the life of a political prisoner in a Russian gulag. The hero, Ivan, is a shrewd and clever observer who negotiates the complex morality of prison life. He has successfully learned the ins and outs of survival and "getting ahead" in the gulag. As his day progresses, with various challenges and obstacles, he explains and acts in accord with the rules that govern not only his circumstances but also the very natures of those around him. He demonstrates courage, resourcefulness, and exceptional humanity. In contrast, the other prisoners live on the thin edge of survival through their failure to recognize and adhere to these same principles. Little imagination is needed to translate the forceful lessons of this short book to everyday life. A remarkable tale of indomitable courage, resourcefulness, and optimism under some of the most extreme circumstances imaginable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lauren lynch
This is a momentous work - quite unlike FIRST CIRCLE or the GULAG ARCHIPELAGO. Solzhenitsyn cannot himself from centering on people. Despite the epic events depicted, the start of WW1, the Battle of Tannenburg, the meeting of cultures, in the end this is a book of individuals, great and small.
The word pictures he has created of the rolling plains of battle, the lumbering armies, life in the military, are some of the greatest ever painted. One is transported back to that date when backward, religiously zealous, serf-like Russia meets the modern age. The story of the first vision of the industrial West by the illiterate Russian soldier - and the impact it makes on them - was breathtaking.
The story switches from one vista to another, battlefield to palace, and finally from the Romanovs to Lenin as the march of history continues steadily and inexorably onward. Even knowing the awful outcome does not decrease the pleasure of the story. At the end, you have come only so far and are ready for the next in the series, NOVEMBER 1916. I like the method in which he has chosen to write history - the selection of specific periods of time which he considered to have had the greatest impact on the modern Soviet state.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mostafa wfa
This is a world-renown story of a regular man's regular day, only in the setting of a Russian Gulag in frozen Siberia. Denisovich wakes up, works, talks with his fellow prisoners, eats a little, and goes to bed. What makes the book such is a success is the way it subtly gets under your skin, making you empathize with him while acknowledging the futility of feeling in such a remote and barren world. Life is tough, cold, and monotonous, which is exactly how you feel while reading it. However, its detachment is one of its strengths, as it keeps emotion at bay and focus attuned to denser themes of futility and the effects of totalitarianism and brutality on the normal psyche. It is written in a simple style, and is always detached from its characters in a way that makes their little moments of sympathy all the more impactful. Short, lean, and fascinating, this is necessary reading for anyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
emma alling
I'm not far into this book, only having started it today, but my feeling is that this may be the greatest novel ever written. AS is such an extraordinary writer with such a vivid sense of language and the ability to communicate a range of situations and human feelings that one is immediately swept in, swept up, in an irresistible tidal wave of story. As great as Dostoevsky.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The First Circle is a masterwork that depicts an essential part of Stalinist era history and by extension modern world history. It clearly illustrates the evil that existed and the governmental participation in its administration. This is an important book that should be on your reading list. Reviewed by the author of The Children's Story, About Good and Evil.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maryam 3
This was Solzhenitsyn's first published novel and it caused a sensation. I first read the book when I was in high school in 1964 and recall being stunned by the story (even at that early date, high school students were reading the book and, as can be seen from the comments of the other reviewers, high school students are still reading it). It relates one day in the life of a prisoner, a carpenter who had been imprisoned on baseless charges, in a labor camp in Siberia in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Solzhenitzen drew on his own experiences in labor camps to write this short book. A few years later, he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jad taylor
This book has been reviewed over and over again. I doubt I can add much that has not been mentioned. I read this book (the first time) in 1978. It is one of the few books that sticks in my mind like I read it yesterday.

First, it is short, only about 150-160 pages. For all its brevity it packs the impact of and 800 pager by Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. I enjoyed this book more than the much longer "Cancer Ward".

Solzhenityn's descriptive and narrative power are in absolutely top form here. It captures perfectly, the futility, hopelessness, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit undergoing 10 years of unjust imprisonment. Chilling and descriptive in its captivating imagery. It is simply written by a master at the top of his game with unparalleled subject matter to work with. Considering that the story captures only one day, the density and power of the imagery are amazing.

There are so many little snippets that stick with you, bone chilling cold so frigid that cement must be heated or it freezes before it can be used,searching for soup with "fish eyes" in it because it fills you up better and is more nutritious,and of course the last sentence of the book has a chilling and desolate finality to it that I will probably remember until I am dead.

This book made me hate the Soviet Union enough to become a soldier.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
austin allen
Two things really caught my attention in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. One was that I could not help but notice that, despite all of his "camp-smarts" and shocking selflessness, Shukhov constantly insults the stupidity of the camp leaders, characterizing Shukhov as a disbeliever. This leads to my second point. Before reading One Day I had never paid enough attention to the fact that it was ARTISTS who were imprisoned. I had previously just assumed that communist leaders genuinely believed that the individuality of artists made them communism's enemies. The way how Solzhenitsyn characterizes the artists, however, as extreme intellectuals gave me the idea that communist leaders imprison artists because only idiots could ever believe that true communism can be achieved. (I mean, Marx expected violent revolutions to lead to Care Bear-like societies. Who would dedicate his life to an idea forced upon him?)
What I liked most about this book is how much it puts my problems in perspective. If ever I complain about how moronic my "superiors" are, I should think about how many times the guards recounted the freezing prisoners! That will certainly stop my whining!
The only thing I did not like about this book is that it describes one of Shukhov's better days. He earned a lot of extra food and tobacco and did not get sick. At the end of the book, I kind of was left thinking "What atrocious camps. I wonder if I could survive there!" rather than "Dear God, how can they still bear living!" Regardless, people should definitely read this book. We all need more perspective and it is important to know what mistakes others have made so that we may learn from them and make sure they are never repeated.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
beth polebaum
When I picked up this book and noted the page length, I thought there wasn't going to be much to this book. How wrong was I? I was bowled over by the powerful yet unembelished prose. Solzhenitsyn tells it like it is without grasping at any purpleness that would push the book over the edge. Cold, hungry, forced to work under horrible conditions, Ivan Denisovich and his gang members make do while somehow managing to not lose the things that make them who they are in the real world.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
mike reid
This is not a review of the contents of this rollicking long short-story (great reviews to which can be found easily in many places), but rather a quick word on the quality of this paperback edition.

The typescript is a large-font. Neat and easy to read, though this leaves the ratio of content:page a little small for my taste.

The paper quality is a little below average, rough but tolerable.

A slight yellow tinge to the pages.

Poor quality spine and glue (the first two pages of the book are torn half-way up already).

An annoyingly large barcode sticker on the back of the book that refuses to come off with all of it's glue. I had no choice but to re-attach the sticker so as to not attract grime and filth to the sticky ghost it left behind.

The cover quality is also quite poor. A thin layer of cardboard easily scratched and bent out of shape, leaving weathering that indicates a seasoned favourite where an infant exists.

Overall, the quality of this paperback is disappointing. Nevertheless, may you find some solace in knowing of the little time you will spend with it in hand, the story barely spanning one hundred eighty 'three quarter pages'.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lici beveridge
A knowledge of Russian history will add to the reader's enjoyment of this penetrating novel but is not mandatory. Solzhenitsyn describes a complex web of characters, all connected in some way to the effects of repression and control by the Soviet government of the 1950s. Using his personal experience of prison camps the writer portrays an unforgiving world in an extremely powerful novel. Although fiction, this book is now a historical artefact and testament to a (hopefully) vanished world. A truly great book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dorothy protz
"One Day in the Life..." is stark, humane, and ceaselessly hopeful.

Solzhenitsyn spend years in labor camps and exile, and he filters those experiences into this tale of one prisoner going through a day in the freezing wastelands of Siberia. Ivan has a ten-year sentence, and has learned to work the system of guards, gangs, and mess hall. He hates the cold, but he knows ways to fight it and finagle better tools, smokes, and food. He, like the others, is a survivor who thinks mostly of himself; on the other hand, he is willing to share with his favorite Estonians.

Throughout, Solzhenitsyn gives glimpses into the various regions of the former Soviet Union, into the politics and even religious thoughts, and let's us see these things through colorful yet simple language that befits his protagonist. Ivan is anything but self-pitying. He is a voice for the countless prisoners of that day ang age. It's hard to fathom, in our culture, the impact this story had on the international community in the midst of Communism in Russia. Many then were unaware of the abuses under that system. Solzhenitsyn brought into the light the many cruelties suffered under Stalin's rule. I traversed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express in the late 1980s, and it is sad to think of the many censored artists, writers, poets, and preachers who died in the country's harsh eastern landscape.

The final paragraphs of this book don't rely on heightened drama but on the weighty realism of Ivan's ongoing incarceration. Despite this reality, Ivan is focused on the next day alone, thankful, full of hope, looking for the good in the midst of trouble. It's this attitude that makes "One Day in the Life..." a classic to be shared for generations to come.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH takes readers through life in a Russian prison camp during the days of Stalin. The character and story are based on the author's real-life experience as an unjustly held political prisoner. Beatings, starvation and cruelty were the staples of existence for the prisoners, who carved out their daily life through exhaustive work camp labor in sub-zero temperatures. Driven to the edge of survival, readers witness the subtle means by which the lead character maintains his sense of humanity. From simply hanging on to a secret spoon to eat with, which he made himself as a means of small hope, to the end of the book where he shows care for his fellow prisoners - the main character's focus is not on things that were lost, such as his former life of freedom with his wife - but instead on things within the camp that he finds to keep him going, such as a pair of felt boots or a small piece of bread he hides to eat later. Such perspective embodies the courageous qualities of the human spirit.

For readers who enjoyed this book, I strongly recommend reading an intense journey that chronicles incredible perseverance in the face of adversity - a memoir by Gregg Milligan called A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. As a young boy subjected to severe physical, mental and sexual abuse, Gregg finds ways to keep his hope alive - such as finding a stray dime to purchase a fruit pie from the corner store, taking refuge in a quiet field at the end of the block, and caring for a kitten rejected by its mother. Readers will be struck the pure innocence of a child's heart prevailing in the depths of evil. The love he has for his siblings and even his abusive mother is a testament to its endurance. An unforgettable story, exquisitely written in a searing visual style, A BEAUTIFUL WORLD will ever remain with those that read it.

The strength and resilience of those that suffer encourages all of us to stay the course, no matter what difficulties in life we may face. Look no further than ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH and A BEAUTIFUL WORLD for proof.

And in the words of Gregg Milligan, "Few rise above all the decadence done unto them. Those blessed few leave a great influence of a better day filled with clean hope and blossoming opportunities. We are all capable of leaving this mark - no matter what we've been through."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
budi primawan
This slim volume gives us a close up look at one day in a Stalin-era labor camp. Not much more can be added to the volumes of commentary about Solzhenitsyn's masterful little horror story. Why is it important for us to read it? Because the U.S. may no longer be on the outside of the gulag business looking in. If you are beginning to think that torturing prisoners just might be a good idea, you know, efficient, not to mention possibly essential to protecting the the book. Or if some small part of you thinks "You know, maybe that Joe Arpaio guy is right, teaching those criminals a lesson in accountability," read what happens when we forget the guys in the striped pajamas are also human beings. Read what happens to us when we brutalize them.

Just read the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obviously influenced from Solzhenitsyn's personal experiences. This book is beautifully constructed and I personally think translated very well, It's surprisingly readable, I read it in 3 days.
The idea is to follow ivan denisovich's day at the camp. We see the importance of some of the most simple things that we take for granted, an extra bowl of oatmeal, a piece of bread and the layers that covers one's body.
Solzhenitsyn really is a master of imagery, you can almost feel the biting of the cold and the thumping footsteps on the snow. It also is emotional without over doing the romanticism which could easily have happened.
You definitely admire the main character, whether it's his obedience or just the amount of human warmth that comes from his presence. It's also his slow departure from reality and human warmth that takes most of the book, his animalistic idea of survival, and the need to survive.
I would strongly recommend it to anyone with taste.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
colin teichholtz
Well, this is the first English edition and the translation is lousy, according to the author. The translator (Glenny) had done the job by dividing the text for translation by his pupils. That said I confess I have read this edition at least 30 times since the 1970's, but I would advise everybody to read rather the newer, enlarged edition translated by Willett.
When this book was published, most were disappointed, because here Solzhenitsyn appears not as the critic of the Soviet system but as the patriotic Russian. Many didn't like this. Many still think "Russia = Communism". They are wrong of course, the Russians did not surrender to Communism lightly, and Russia has suffered more under Communism than any other country except maybe North Korea.
Solzhenitzyn opposes in his writing the historical view of Tolstoy, according to whom great men don't make history. In this book August 1914 Solzhenitzyn shows, how one man changed history. The German general Hermann von Francois disobeyed his orders, did not withdraw his troops but encircled the Russian 2. army and destroyed it. Imperial Russia never recovered from this blow.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I have read most of Solzhenitsyn's books both in English and German, each time forgetting time and space when I was reading. Then I traveled Russia and stayed in the hotel in Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East where he stayed upon his return to Russia, and I cruised the Amur River along which the Gulags he so vividly described existed. Alone near the front of the boat in the early morning hours, I pictured his prisoners in the bitter cold, totally isolated in a huge area that is cut off from the world except for the winters because of the marshes, but also escape-proof in winter because no one can survive those temperatures.

What literature, what landscape, what a country!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is not a lengthy book. It doesn't need to be. It is the story of one day for a man named Ivan in the Soviet work camps. Solzhenitsyn doesn't dramatize any part of it; he doesn't need to. The spare dark prose speaks for itself.
This is a fine book, painful, but important for any of us to read, if only to vow in our hearts, that we will show the same courage in great adversity, and, if given the opportunity to treat the enemy like animals, that we will not give in to the temptation. Read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book was gripping from its very first page. You start the book with Shukov at dawn and continue with him for the rest of the day. Most of the book is caught up with descriptions of the tasks that the zeks (prisoners) had to do, the ingenious ways of keeping alive and what it took to make it over the ten or twenty five year stretches in a "special" camp.
I thought perhaps Solzhenitsyn could have explored the issue of the injustices in these camps more fully, there were only passing references to the unfair treatment that these prisoners had to go through and most of these were stated in a matter-of-fact kind of way. This left the reader feeling like an outsider watching a distant scene rather than being in amongst the prisoners; feeling their pain and their daily struggles.
The character Aloysha, a baptist interested me because of the way he handled the sufferings in prison with an uncanny cheerfulness. I would have loved to see more of a dialogue between him and Shukov to see what really made him tick. This book does not delve into any deep philosophical issues, it is more like a diary of Shukov's day; unthinking and mechanical, noting down the events that happened during the day in chronological order without much comment.
I do not mean to criticize the book, just point out my observations. All in all I found the book to be very interesting reading and I would recommend this book to you if you are interested in a historical novel about the "special" camps in Russia during the time of Stalin.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sonya pimentel
Solzhenitsyn's novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is five star reading for many important reasons. For one, it offers a real account of Siberian prison camp life but also gives the reader a good dose of fiction that is in perfect sync with fact. This book never tries to over-exagurate or over-dramatify events that are just simple tasks (like F. Scott Fitzgerald does). It is artfully written and short, but complete. BUT, the title does not accuratly explain the book. It is not just one day, it is many of them, but that was a logical step. Such a mistake is excusable. When you read this, keep in mind you're getting history, and a brillant story. MOST ENJOYABLE!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
robin cashman
For lovers of Russian literature and history buffs, this is a terrific book! If you're not a fan of this genre, however, it's going to be ONE TOUGH READ. Solzhenitsyn throws in characters with machine-gun rapidity as well as hundreds of local historical references that will be lost on many folks simply eager to find out about a bit about one of the greatest writers of the century.
That having been said, this one is a winner. Rich description, lovely prose and Solzhenitsyn's obvious love for his homeland are woven into a terrific work that offers deep insights into the Russian view this tumultuous period in their history. For my money, the portion of the book dealing the desperate Russian army and their misguided leaders is Solzhenitsyn at his finest: brutally accurate and never lacking in a deeper understanding of the flawed human beings that made up the events.
This is a must read, but don't make it your first foray into Russian literature or Solzhenitsyn. Try a shorter, less complex work first and then move to this if you like the genre.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ruthann kelly
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a former inmate at a Soviet GULAG prison camp wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich as a controversial fictional account based on true facts of what life in a Russian prison camp was like in the time of Stalin. In it, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, and the rest of the 104th squad have to make it through the day without getting more prison time or getting locked up in the guardhouse. Not to mention they have to work to earn their meals. There is no exposition as Solzhenitsyn starts right out with rising action, introducing everything as the story goes on. The story reaches an exciting climax when Shukhov has to find a solution to a problem that could get him locked away. The story ends with him completing the day.

Solzhenitsyn is a literary genius. He didn't use the fact that he had been through the GULAG as an excuse; he merely incorporated it in to the book upgrading it from very good, to brilliant. His serious tone and in-depth account of the story made you feel like a "zek" yourself. He even swore at and insulted all the bad people.

I would recommend this book mostly to anyone who enjoys an in-depth third person story. However, I think anyone who has made it through elementary school could enjoy this book. It doesn't read like a play, where everything is introduced at the beginning, instead he only introduces things when they arrive on scene. Overall, I believe this controversial and powerful book does a masterful job of opening our eyes to the Stalinist reality.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sky conan
Better bring a scorecard. Like a master chess player, the author weaves together dozens of characters set in a pivotal month when a million soldiers died during WW I. Solzhenitsyn was able to transfer deep insights into the written word. He unravels the "riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" that is Russia.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
No study of the Soviet Union could be complete without reading "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", By Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Unlike Solzhenitsyn's later novels "The First Circle" or "The Gulag Archipelago" that explore the life of a zeck (political prisoners) in depth, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a simple straight forward narrative of a single day in the life of a zeck. Solzhenitsyn captures the unchanging hopelessness and brutality of life in a gulag with both brevity and startling guileless narrative. Even the length of less than 200 pages is a transformation of the usual Russian novel.

Prior to publication of Solzhenitsyn's work in 1962 by Novy Mir (New Life) Magazine and its publication in the West being little was known about the details of the Stalinist Repression Prison Camp System. The very existence of the gulag system came as a surprise, but the size and brutality of these camps was a breathtaking revelation. Not all zecks were political prisoners most were confined for violation of Article 58; weakening of the power of workers' and peasants'... or undermining... the external security of the U.S.S.R., literally covering everything from littering to treason.

As additional reading I recommend "The Trial" by Kafka to get a unique if somewhat parallaxed view of Soviet Jurist Prudence. A narrative of Joseph K. who awakens one morning and, for reasons never revealed, is arrested and prosecuted for an unspecified crime, or "The First Circle" a narrative of the life of high-valued zecks working on an encrypted telephone system for Stalin's use.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bradley aaron
There are some books that stay etched in you're memory and "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is one of them. The first major breakthrough in the Solzhenitsyn repertoire is a powerful, moving account of the everyday struggles a prisoner of the Gulag faces. This vivid account that Solzhentisyn effortlessly conveys, details the experiences, motivations and practicalities of life that Ivan Denisovich encounters within a Russian labour camp.
The truly remarkable and gripping feature of this account is that it comes from a man who has lived and breathed the exact struggles that is reflected in Ivan Denisovich's character.
Tvardovsky, the Russian editor who founded this great literary work noted that "not a drop of falsehood" existed in this account and did everything possible to see it controversially published in the face of strong opposition. For this reason alone it I thought it was deserving of a read and I wasn't disappointed.
This book does not concern itself with the wider implications of life in the Soviet union because these wider issues do not effect the character. What the character is concerned with is managing to survive another day in this typically unforgiving labour camp and how he draws upon his extensive experiences and instincts developed from his years in prison.
Although this book is primarily focused around one man, there is a huge amount of insight into the variety of different prisoners that are prevalent in labour camps, ranging from the beaten up scroungers to the over privelleged slackers. This gives the reader a fresh perspective some idea of how much so little can be worth and what is vital to basic survival.
Anyone who has a fascination with life in Russian labour camps in the Stalinist era or who just wants to lose themself in a moving account should pick up this wonderfully written, flowing piece of literature. Solzhenitsyn truly pours his soul into this work.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hope struck
My husband kept recommending that I read this and I am glad I finally did. The author makes you feel cold, tired and hungry right along with the narrator. It was a great glimpse into life under communism in the Soviet Union.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ted spangler
When the great author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn passed away in the summer of 2008, he left behind a bibliography of powerful masterpieces that rank him among the pinnacles of the Russian canon. Best remembered for his epic, three-volume magnum opus, "The Gulag Archipelago," and his equally compelling novella, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Desinovich," Mr. Solzhenitsyn's legacy no doubt draws its origins from the traumatic and probing experiences he endured in Joseph Stalin's totalitarian regime. His writing, deep-seated in a tradition infused with lofty questions about philosophy, religion, and society, no doubt echoes the hallmarks of giants like Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky while reexamining the state of the Russian soul during this period of crisis.

This latest reincarnation of his first novel, "In the First Circle," calls for celebration among the author's English-language readers: it not only presents this magnificent score in its unabridged entirety, but also dresses the text in a translation that faithfully captures the raw, unfiltered intentions Solzhenitsyn had originally envisioned. Written under exceptionally difficult circumstances (composed after an eight year sentence in the Gulags, trailing his nearly fatal bout with cancer and his exile to Kazakhstan, and finally the United States), this novel's manuscript saw completion in 1958, yet continued to collect dust even after the author had garnered sensational, worldwide acclaim with Ivan Desinovich.

Determined to have this novel reach the public eye, Solzhenitsyn revised the draft at least four times, excising nine chapters and re-tailoring characters and details to Soviet limitations before attempting to sieve it through the censors. However, such is the fate of art in Stalinist Russia, as the press refused him the permission to have it printed. In 1968, Mr. Solzhenitsyn desperately pursued to publish this novel in the West, thus submitting this "ersatz, truncated" manuscript that generated a hasty and bowdlerized translation entitled "The First Circle." Although that preceding version vividly portrayed the moral degeneracy of the Stalinist regime, even the author himself recognized that it rendered only a half-baked blueprint devoid of the subtleties, the depth, and the richness of character explored in his uncut and unspoiled masterpiece.

"In the First Circle," a sprawling narrative set within a time frame of four days, is based largely on the period Solzhenitsyn spent in a Moscow prison facility that doubly served as a research institute, where technicians, professionals, and intellectuals are detained to assist in developing state security technology. The title, an allusion to the first circle of hell depicted in Dante's Inferno, connotes the slightly more humane treatment these zeks (prisoners) receive, much like the guileless philosophers condemned, albeit laxly, for having never known divine grace. Formally known as the sharashka, this privileged branch of the gulag network was described by one character as "practically paradise," an irony considering that its inhabitants are stripped of everything, most glaringly their dignity.

At the beginning of the novel, the Russian diplomat Innokenty Volodin contacts the US Embassy to warn of an impending espionage operation in New York, where a Soviet spy plans to steal information about atomic bomb designs. To his misfortune, the call is intercepted by the Soviet secret police, thus sparking an investigation that sends ripples throughout the entire system--involving the whole gamut of engineers, technicians, politicians (Stalin carves out as a vain, morbid, and self-absorbed character, and Eleanor Roosevelt saunters in with quite the humorous cameo appearance), university students, communist lackeys, writers, and diplomats, all of whom live with shattered or improbable dreams in this strident, monotonous, and featureless Russia.

Back in the sharashkas, the zeks are charged into developing a device that identifies voices recorded from tapped phone conversations. The zeks who inhabit this "special prison," while aware of their privileges relevant to the more inhumanely treated members of the Gulag network, encounter a stark moral dilemma that urges them to question their motivations for aiding a system bound to acts of corruption and evil. Near the end of the story, a number of zeks, including the autobiographical hero Gleb Nerzhin, defect to their moral conscience, even if that entails suffering under the icy brutality of the Siberian gulags.

Though the Russia of Solzhenitsyn's construct rings not with the tsarist decadence, the Westward-looking dandyisms, the filigreed troikas, or the luxuriant samovars of a bygone century, the author nonetheless paints his fractured people with the pitch-perfect accuracy resonant with the ethos of the quintessential Russian character. In a throwback to tradition, the author interweaves his mammoth plot with gallery of garrulous Russians discoursing in matters of the religious ("Christianity is the faith of the strong in spirit. We must have the courage to see the evil in the world and to root it out"), the political ("Socialism promises only equality and a full belly, and that only by means of coercion"), and the social ("Indifference, the organism's last self-preservative reaction, has become our defining characteristic"), no doubt reminiscent of the heroes in those great 19th century classics--incisive in their observations of the world, critical of the malaises incurred by higher earthly and spiritual forces, yet utterly sensitive to the plights of the human condition. If anyone could be rightly called the inheritor of Tolstoy and Dostoevky's greatness, that artist would be Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Readers certainly have much to unearth and discover in this marvelous rerelease of what is arguably Solzhenitsyn's finest work of fiction. This revelatory and authoritative edition owes its existence to the eminent Solzhenitsyn scholar and Calvin College professor emeritus Edward Ericson, who worked closely with the author's family to recover the missing chapters and to tie in loose ends when its translator, Harry Willetts, died in 2005. Now, more than fifty years since the initial completion of the manuscript, this version finally rescues the novel from its "tortured textual history," restoring not only the lost text and other previously reworked details, but shedding greater light too on the pronounced elements of Christian morality deeply embedded in Solzhenitsyn's oeuvre.

As the curtain closes at the end of the novel, a small group of zeks are shuffled into meat trucks bound for those forbidding labor camps. While there appears not the visible redemption or the resolve that greets these wounded characters at the end of their journey, this story provides instead a reaffirming answer against the evils of tyranny--that of an enduring "fearlessness" that remains undiminished and undefeated in the face of oppression. However bleak, "In the First Circle" is ultimately a moving tour de force, an indubitably great symphonic masterpiece that powerfully resonates with the moral strength, the goodness, and the resilience of our humanity.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The day begins and ends in darkness and cold. The goal for the day is an extra dollop of soup , a few more minutes by the fire, a choice spot on a work detail. What you once were means nothing to who you are now. You are standing next to Ivan Denisovich , stay next to him , and survive.

That first little bit sounds pretentious , but it's kind of like the emotional tone I got from the book... What I liked about the novel is it's clear , simple and straight-away style. It brings the reader right into the action and doesn't waste time moralizing on the evils of Communism. It's the story itself that brings that messsage to you. A classic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
eran dror
The setting in which experience takes place effects the mood and quality of the experience. It's natural for most people to judge the amount of meaning is in their lives, by the quality of the setting in which they live. If this is the case, then how do people keep the will to live when the setting of their life becomes completely destitute? When one is forced to live in harsh surroundings, he will only find value in his life by keeping his will to live unbreakable, as seen in One day in the Life if Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn , when Ivan, the main character in the book is forced to live in a Stalinist work camp for eight years, and never loses his will to live .

The beginning of the book is the beginning of one day that Ivan Denisovich spends in a Stalinist work camp. The ending of his book is the ending of this same day in the camp. However he is subject to constant dehumanization by the guards he works for from the moment that he wakes up, to the moment that he goes to bed. He is expected to perform heavy physical labor, despite being deprived of any real nourishment. He lives in one of the coldest, harshest, and most evil enviroments that can be imagined, but he never gives up. Ivan never loses his will to live, even when the setting in which he is forced to live in, attemps to break him apart.

The reader might be naive to the history of the Soviet Union or may not be aware of the relationship between Stalin and the Russians. This information would be very helpful to know to further the reader's understanding of the struggles that Ivan Denisovich goes through in the book and why. It will help the reader to understand why the setting of the book is so dark. If the reader wishes to learn about The Soviet Union or the relationship between Stalin and the Russians, there is a lot of information available in most libraries. The more knowledge the reader has before the reading the book, the better they will understand the reasons that Ivan is forced to live in such a destitute enviroment.

Ivan never loses his will to live throughout the book, but he is by no means content. In the the third to last paragraph of the book, the reader senses a shift in Ivan. He is content. He is relieved to feel his unwashed blanket cover the length of his body, because this means that he has made it through another day. Until he feels that blanket cover his body, he can't be sure that he will make it through the day. The guards might kill him in his sleep but he is satasfied because he at least made it through this one day.

When the setting of one's life doesn't encourage one to thrive, he must make his will unbreakably strong. Only then will he survive. In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Ivan is forced to live in conditions that most people don't dare to imagine. He lives in bitter cold with little food, and he is in constant danger of being killed. The setting of Ivan's life doesn't project anything that resembles goodness or hope, yet he hangs on to his will to live for one more day. The will of a person must be stronger than the conditions that they are subject to. Ivan Denisovich is a perfect example. He lives in a cold and evil Stalinist camp, yet never loses his will to live. The setting of One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich is in deed very dark, but the individual that is portrayed is not. Ivan is able to defy the dismal setting in which he lives, and keeps his will intact.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jody herriott
"The First Circle" is a deeep look into the hearts of people subject to near-absolute power. There is a quality of Kafka more than Tolstoy. The power is so distant. But then Solzhenitsyn takes himself and us into the mind of Stalin himself. This is the weakest part of the book. He makes sounds which he imagines to be Stalin's, as having Stalin think of going to Church- like Christians everywhere. One never feels inside Stalin. It seems almost a childlike view of the dictator. In many ways it is as one-sided, though not as propagandistic or overtly phony as the many "studies" of Hitler. "Ten years! That's no sentence. Thirty years."

One can see the horror of arbitrary power, but not look into the soul of its possessor. There is an immense suffering implied by the men driven away on the meat truck- the one who says they are leaving Hell and the other who says No! We are going there now. There is more reality in the suffering of a man who cares only for family. It is tempting to compare this book with "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo. I think Hugo's picture of victimhood is less realistic, more Romantic than Solzhenitsyn's. "The First Circle" is a book that ought to be read- that much I can honestly say--though I feel Solzhenitsyn bit off more than he could chew. It would have taken a Shakespeare to have told the story as powerfully, yet with more realism.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sue pratt
A sad story about the pains of The Gulag, yet from what i have learned, Solzhenitsyn wasnt in the gulag when it was at its Most Evil Stage, so this account is basically how good it could have been, not how bad it could have been.

The Story is sad and gripping, with many charecters and tensions, only strange thing i noticed is, is how noone died in the book...A few recallations, but no actual deaths, just brutal treatinsg and evil actions.

This book is very good, and is well deserving of its name of Signet Classic, after all, with so much holocaust literature around, there should be literature about the Meat Grinder of History; The Gulag, claim from 10,000,000 - 40,000,000 Lives.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
andrei dascalu
It is difficult to imagine a more horrific ordeal than life in a Soviet prison camp as described by Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. While classified as fiction, many millions of people really were sent to such camps and of those most perished. From this book, it is not hard to see why: little sleep, back-breaking labour, horrible food and intense psychological stress. That anyone could conceive a system so terrible, and then consign innocent people to it, testifies to the brutality inherent in Man. That anyone could live nine years under such conditions and survive to tell about it, as Solzhenitsyn himself did, testifies to the power of human endurance and faith. I recommend this book to everyone, especially those who find reason to admire or otherwise support our modern Socialist dictators in China, the Middle East and elsewhere.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brian rothbart
I skim read the reviews of this book on the store, the lower star ratings shocked me more than the others in certain comments they made.

I am about 620 pages through this book, I have read the earlier draft version previously. I have also read one life in the day of ivan denisovich, cancer ward, the nobel speeches, letter to the soviet leaders and the first ward all at least twice (and very thoroughly). also the gulag (some chapters multiple times).... I am still in my early twenties. I agreed with a point a reviewer made about it being hard to work out which battalion is fighting who etc. The earlier draft has list of all these characters and also the russian army layout (it seems strange that this was left out in the later edition)( for me this never was a problem, especially since I am reading the book for the second time, a habit i encourage).

However, this book is by no means contrived, it requires a great deal of imagination to be able appreciate it. I find it strange that people compare this to War and Peace, even though Solz clearly critizes Tolstoy in this very book (as he does in Gulag chapter ascent). ALthough to be honest I haven't fully read Tolstoy's book (I started Anna Karenina, but stopped after about 40 pages a couple of years ago)...(so maybe in form there are similarities, I do not know).

Solzhenitsyn only holds bias in the sense that when one sees mass oppression of peoples one is bound to feel agrieved, and bitterness. If one didn't we could rightly claim that they had ceased to behave like a human being (and more like a rat!).

Be careful what translations you read, some seem far superior to others.

When reading this book one must remember how many different human beings are involved, each different.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
andrei alupului
Stop reading reviews and the read the book! This is an amazing peice of literature. It's deep thoughtful and engrossing. This book is riveting and changed my view on literature. This translation by Thomas p Whitney brings solzenhitsyns work to life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
beth barnett
Alexander Solzhenytsin first burst on to the literary scene in this harrowing autobiographical novel based on his own experiences as a prisoner on a Siberian gulag after World War II. It was published in 1962 with the personal authorization of Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev. Ironically, it was the last time Solzhenytsin would enjoy such official sanction. Almost immediately the lid came down on him. It's easy to see why. This book shows just how rotten, vile, hypocritical, and thoroughly despicable Stalinist Russia really was, and anyone die-hard Marxist who argues the contrary needs his eyes opened. Ironically, the book's publication in 1962 was taken as proof that the Soviet Union had changed, and Communist Parties in the west were among its most enthusiastic supporters. Solzhenitsyn writes in a spare, colloquial style, with liberal use of obscenity and slang, taking us through a typical day in the life of a typical prisoner. There is no torture or undue brutality, just back-breaking labor and no personal freedom. Although the Soviet empire crumbled in the early 1990s, it's easy to see that Solzhenitsyn's message is as pertinent today as ever, especially in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. This is a book everyone should read at least once, whatever their ideology.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is an incredible book. The book takes place in a Siberian Labor camp during World War II. The main character Ivan Denisovich has been in the camp for a very long time. He starts to think that he will never be liberated from the camp.
The book of 139 pages only covers one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, this takes you through an entire day that is very stressful and hard on the characters in the book. Denisovich has many troubles throughout the one day. Throughout the day he moves up and starts getting more responsibilities like being in charge of the building of the wall. His squad leader Turin makes the life of the prisoners so much easier for example on roll call he never makes them stand out in the cold longer than they have to be. That shows true character to me by being so nice to the prisoners and not treating them like their scum. Overall this is a must read book and it truly amazing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book is an excellent example of the horrors of the Stalinist work camps (Gulag) that were in existence for most of Russia's modern history. Alexander Solzhenitsyn masterfully weaves descriptions of minute details, which, surprisingly, do not become tedious, but provide a better understanding of the task or action that the main character performs, with a universal theme that all people can relate to - survival. The title accurately describes the setting of the book; its entirety occurs in one day of the life of Ivan Denisovich, a prisoner. This may confuse some in that everyday tasks and unique events around this main character provoke flashbacks more often than not, and provide a complete picture of this man's life before he was imprisoned and since he has been serving his ten-year sentence. All in all, this book has a superior edge to most other books on this same subject in that its author, ALexander Solzhenitsyn, went through the same struggles as the main character of the novel, providing valuable insights, thoughts, and emotions that tie the novel together. An excellent read - one that I would recommend to anyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nick bicknell
Obvious is the significance and brilliance of this novel, which has been discussed over and over and over again. It's important to look at this novel as how it changes your comtemporary perspective of human suffering, and create a strong feeling of sympathy vested in the fact that 'you know, I really don't have it too bad after all.' I read this novel shortly after watching 6 seasons of HBOs Oz, and it makes that Oswald State Penitentiary look like Club Med. If you ever feel like you're down in the dumps and life is hopeless, pick up this book and read it in an evening. I assure you that by attempting to understand how Ivan Denisovich and his prisonmates survived and lived each day at a time will truly change your perspective on how you live each day of your OWN life.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Not many of us can say we have experienced anything as dramatic as what the characters in this book have to experience on a daily basis.
With that in mind, this book is highly educational, showing us one ordinary day in the life of one of the thousands of people who lived, and in some countries still live under terrible conditions.
The story is a sad one, not because of violence, which it has virtually none, but because the idea of living that life every single day is brutal, and it just tears your heart apart.
I am not sure I loved the way it was written, it seemed too simple, but it did make the reading go faster.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
christy kingham
Well, if nothing else, *One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich* will make you think twice about complaining about your day at the office or even that overtime shift down at the local minimart. This short novel boils the Soviet gulag experience down to its bare essentials. You're woken up before dawn cold and hungry. You're marched off to work cold and hungry. You're marched back after dark cold and hungry. You get three bowls of thin gruel a day and a few ounces of bread to keep you going. And you're always so cold and hungry you're grateful to have them.

This is one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. It's probably only necessary to describe one of them because all the rest are going to be exactly like it. All 3,650+ of them--a ten-year sentence for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is totalitarianism, Communist-style. The State is so paranoid that it sees enemies everywhere, even in innocent men, of which Shukhov is numbered. By the time we join him, he's in his eighth year of his sentence and so acclimated to the system he's not even sure he wants to leave. Which might not be a bad thing inasmuch as the authorities have a habit of arbitrarily extending a prisoner's sentence just when he thinks he'll be freed.

Solzhenitsyn amply conveys this sense of futility and all the banal horrors and injustices of the gulag, the pettiness of the guards, the corruption of the system and the dehumunization of the prisoners with inarguable effectiveness. But there's a lack of psychological depth in the depiction of Shukhov ((and every other character in the novel)) that seems impossible in the Russian novel after Dostoyevski. Shukhov is, for the most part, a cardboard character set up by Solzhenitsyn to take the blows for what is the real point of this novel: an indictiment of the Stalinism. *One Day* reads a bit like an allegory in that respect, or like the American `muckraking' novels of the early 20th century--works meant to expose some social institution gone horrendously wrong.

As such, *One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich* remains--and probably will forever be--a valuable text for its dramatization of one of the darker periods of human history, and its chronicling of the largely silent sufferings of an entire generation of victims. It writes the story large, however, and, in that sense at least, misses the particulars I personally would have preferred to see rendered. Still and all, a worthwhile, even essential, read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
francesca mueller
Solzhenitsyn draws from his ten years of experience in a Stalinist prison camp to create a very revealing portrait of a single day in a camp. The protagonist hero is an average prisoner who narrates an average day in the camp. The book is written in true narrative form with no chapters or page breaks to cause the story to slow. The advantage to the book covering only one day is it helps the reader better understand how the narrator can think only one day at a time. With no clocks and little contact with the outside, it quickly becomes apparent why the narrator focuses only on getting through each day. This day in particular included a trip to the doctor, elaborate maneuvering to obtain more food, and a piece of saw is hoarded for future use. While these may seem like small things to us, we cannot begin to understand their importance to the narrator. Hopefully, by understanding we can learn from this terrible period of time and that hope can prevail over all things.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
kris evans paull
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is a Gulag prisoner in Siberia in 1951. The day in which this book takes place is actually one of his better days, despite the frigid cold, meager gruel, endless body searches, and back-breaking work. Shukhov has figured out a few tricks to survival, including hiding tools and bread, but what he’d really like is a sick day. I thought at first that he must be a political prisoner, but actually he was released from a German WWII POW camp and then arrested in his homeland on suspicion of being a German spy. If this misconception isn’t ludicrous enough, consider the state of the prison camp. Incomplete buildings and broken machinery abound. One of the reasons that everything is in disrepair is because the work reports, in which productivity is always exaggerated, are apparently more important than the quality of the work. The convicts break off a railing to use as firewood, thus giving us another glimpse as to why the camp is in disarray. Shukhov periodically has to reassess the value of his dignity, as he considers how low he is willing to stoop to survive. This dysfunctional prison camp is perhaps a microcosm of the USSR in many ways—unable to feed itself with a workforce unmotivated to build an infrastructure. This novel may be a standout as social commentary, but as literature, it underwhelmed me somewhat.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brian rubinton
This is the last of the Solzhenitsyn tomes I am reading (read all the rest), and like all the other ones, he had the knack of infusing soul, pathos and some lightheartedness in his work. He had that rare ability to educate, inspire, and keep you wanting to read and know more. He was never the stylish master of some of the other Russian greats, but his assessment of human nature is as solid as Dostoyevski or any other icon of literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Solzhenitsyn is one of the heroes of the Cold War for his public stand against communism and the abuses of the Soviet Union. Through this book, he exposed the Soviet Gulag in Siberia and helped bring world attention to the mass imprisonment of political prisoners. This book gives a play by play of the events of one day in the life of Shukhov, a prisoner in a Siberian Gulag. It is a simple book with a powerful message that was important when it was written and important today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The best part of this book was the portrait of Stalin. It's hard to write about historic figures -- whether it's Lincoln, Hitler, or whomever, they usally end up sounding wooden or cliched. Yet here, the author "gets into the head" of Stalin. Reading it I felt, yes, that must be exactly what Stalin thought and felt like.
The rest of the book is fine too, but Stalin remains the "character" I remember most.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
andy george
Solzhenitsyn truly tells a compelling story: the brutal life of a wrongly convicted loyal soldier surviving in a Russian gulag. One Day truly brings light to one of the darkest chapters in Soviet Russia. As Shukhov teaches the reader about how he survives everyday, he utilizes teamwork and sticks close to his squad, the 107th, or "his family," to help stay alive. In comparison to Night, however, this book falls very short in my opinion. Night had a plot that moved because it took place over a series of several years. In One Day, the reader comes away shocked at the protagonist's lifestyle yet deprived of a moving, fluid plot.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rog rio dalot
I found the author's description of the prison life very vivid and rather disturbing, till I came across the following quotes that the author made during his Nobel lectures on literature:
"The artist is only given to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world and all the beauty and savagery of man's contribution to it -- and communicate this poignantly to people. And even in the midst of failure and down at the lowest depths of existance -- in poverty, prison, illness -- the sensation of a stable harmony will never him."
Sages and philosphers are sometimes made in the prison: but I am sure the author was gifted at birth with the ability to communicate poignanty to people his experiences, and illuminate them from darkness, and kindle a sensation of harmony in them.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This may not be a literary masterpiece but it definately heartfelt and rings with truth. It is an accurate and poignant description of lives in the Gulags (as far as I know). It somewhat refuses to get philosophical at some points and at others is almost poetic in it's thoughtfulness and depth. It is both important for it's historical content and it's wonderful ideas and observations on people.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
daniel pelfrey
What does a gulag for the learned elite have in common with an American corporation? Far too much. I read this book years ago, and wish that I could find my copy again. Every engineering education should commence with a reading and discussion of this most engaging book, alongside Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine. Kidder covers the exterior of the engineering process in an American context of a specific time. Solzhenitsyn, though goes to the deep essential tension, of creativity commanded to flower, on a schedule, in the arid fields of rigid institutionalism.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
phuong anh
A truly graphic and detailed look into the evil and horrid life of prisoners in oppressive communist gulags. It was required reading in school. Something liberals and millennials need to read in order to truly understand how socialism and communism are in fact the most inhuman forms of government and justice
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
priti raja
I would read this book if you want to understand what life was like for men who had to spend time in Siberian prison work camps while Russia was under communist rule. It is shocking some of the things these men go through. You will come to realize how we take things for granted like food, shelter, friends, etc. once you read this disturbing book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I personally didn't find this as good as some of his other works of fiction. Soltzinitsyn's real forte,in my opinion,is non-fiction,but don't let me scare you off if you're a devote,as it's definitely worth a read.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I've loved this novel for years, but was extremely disappointed with the translation compared to the Thomas Whitney version. The introduction states, "The English translation of the canonical text is Harry T.Willetts...the only person Solzhenitsyn fully trusted to render his fiction in English." but then adds, "The editing of the English text entailed...replacing Briticisms with American diction and idiom." The result detracts greatly from the impression. An example: Chapter 2, greeting the newly arrived zeks. The Whitney version:

"And how is the food in the transit camps these days?"
"At the Chelyabinsk camp--"
"Chelyabinsk new or Chelyabinsk old?"
"Your question indicates a connoisseur. At the new one--"

And the Willetts, in Chapter 3:

"What's the food like in transit prisons nowadays?"
"Well, in Chelyabinsk--"
"The old prison or the new one?"
"I can see you're an expert. The new one--"

Much worse, some of the details are lost. The chapter titled "Penalty Marks" (Chapter 30 in the Whitney, Chapter 33 in the Willetts), the chapter ending is markedly different. Whitney:

A scarlet flame spread over Larisa's cheeks, ears, and neck. She did not move from the edge of his desk and looked him boldly in the eyes.
Sologdin was indignent. "And now I'm going to put down three marks at once! I'll be a long time paying them off! First for your impudent, moist eyes, and the fact that I like them. Second, because your blouse isn't closed and you're leaning forward and I see your breasts. And third because I want to kiss your neck."
"Well, then, kiss it," she said, fascinated.
"You've gone mad! Get out of the room! Leave me!"


Haven't you noticed when I make those marks?"
"I have", she said faintly.
The door key, with its aluminum tag, lay on her tracing paper.
A big warm green woolen ball stood breathing hard before Sologdin.
Awaiting his orders.
Sologdin squinted and gave the command.
"Go and lock the door! Quick!"

Granted, Solzhenitsyn **may** have made this specific change, but why would the author of The Gulag Archipelago bother to twitch up a minor love scene in this novel? There are other, similar minor changes that we know Solzhenitsyn made, but the biggest is the motivation of the diplomat Volodin for contacting the American embassy. THAT changes the tone of the entire novel, making it less sinister and more cliched. I don't understand, but I'll just say I really prefer the "original", inspite of the added length of this rewrite.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I once asked a college professor for a list of the books that had really shaken him up when he was younger. This was at the top. For me, however, it wouldn't even make my list of top 50.

"One Day in the Live of Ivan Densinovich" has a great reputation, but to me it wasn't all that. Although affecting in parts, Solzhenitsyn seemed inept at characterization and setting. Ivan is always so immediately focused on what's in front of him that you never really get a sense of the layout of the camp, or its physical reality beyond Ivan's immediate surroundings. There are many characters that appear in the book, but for the most part they are interchangeable and difficult to remember. For a book of only about 140 pages, there were way too many characters.

You might reply that creating a claustrophobic sense of oppression is the book's central strength. Fine, but a true masterwork would have done that in addition to having superb characterization and establishing shots. Right at the beginning of the book, for example, you're thrown cheek by jowl into the action in a way that actual Gulag prisoners certainly weren't (they knew what they were suspected of, there was a train ride to the prison camp, they were huddled and counted before being sent to their barracks, etc.) All of this is missing, asking the reader to be completely immersed and convinced from the opening reveille. That Solzhenitsyn was so economic of description should be reckoned a defect: after all, isn't the purpose of this book to convey what life in the camps was like?

Also awfully difficult to understand what sort of construction job everybody was working on. For as much space as that took in the novel, it should have been a lot clearer.

This little red edition by the Signet Classics sure is handsome, though.

Night; with Connections. Now that's something similar that blew me away.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
terri austin
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was a good and short read. (The book is only 159 pages.) Solzhenitsyn does not break the book into chapters, but rather combines the book into one single narrative. (This can make finding stopping points in your reading difficult.) The entire book takes place during one January day. The book centers around the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov and his fellow prisoners at a Stalinist work prison in Siberia. Solzhenitsyn rarely mentions the prison guards by name in the book. This emphasises the lives of the individual prisoners. Unlike like many other famous Russian novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, is mainly about the Russian underclass. The unchecked power, unfairness, randomness, and ineffectiveness of Soviet Union is constant theme in the book. The most memorable scene from the book, is where the uneducated Shukvo asks if the Soviet government has the power to change the sun's highest point in the sky from noon to one o'clock.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
laura lehner
Its the early 1900's and your in Communist Russia. You've committed a crime and are in a prison camp for ten years. In the Soviet Union, it is extremely cold and is the surveylence is almost unberable. Any wrong move and you could be either executed or thrown into a prison camp for a long time. This is exactly what Ivan Denisovich had to deal with in the book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In this book, Alexandre Solzhenitsyn illustrates how cruel these prison camps really were. Every day, the men that were there had to put up with long, cold winters that rarely went above 15 degrees farenheight. Working out in the cold became a normal thing, but was never a thing to get used to. Since it was the time of Communism, Russia didn't care about the situations and severity of the help needed in these camps. They simply put the men to work and fed them two very small meals a day, just enough to live and get a little energy to work with. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich show how the men put up with this everyday torture and endured it for a very large part of this life. I recomend this book to anyone interested in how Communist Russia acted toward men and women of simple crimes and to see how unjust they were toward them. there is a lot more to learn and read though before we can fully comprehend what kind of life these people lived in these prison camps.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
cecie browne
This is a beautiful edition of a great book. This was the edition I used when reading the book for the first time and it was not only gorgeous to look at but a nice weight and size as well. Solzhenitsyn's words cut to the core of the human condition in a way few authors of the 20th century managed. His ideal of redemption through suffering harkins beyond our age to something much deeper than modernity, or post-modernity for that matter, is concerned with.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read this in three days, and I wasn't expecting to finish it so quickly. There's less romance and more battle than in "War and Peace," and no characters as compelling as the main characters therein, but this work stands with "War and Peace." (For modern readers, this reads better. Required if you want to understand the "dry rot" at the center of the Russian Empire.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is the book that introduced me to Russian literature, and more importantly, to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, perhaps Russia's greatest living writer. This book is bleak, it is short, and it describes unimaginable cruelties and deprivations, but more than anything, it demonstrates the ability for suffering not to cripple a man, but make him stronger, as is evidenced by Shukhov's phenomenal strength of character, and life-affirming nature in the face soul-deadening routine. Moreover, this book is really symbolic of the prison in which all men reside, one escapable only through embracing the minute joys every day brings. How different, really, is Shukhov's happiness over receiving an extra bowl of gruel for dinner, versus my taking an extra 10 minutes on my break at work. I would also recommend Cancer Ward and The First Circle to anyone who finds this book at all interesting.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ken brooks
Though the translation suffers a little, this novel of the last golden days of Imperial Russia and the frenzied destruction of the "old order" by the Bolsheviks remains one of my favorites. Although Solzhenitsyn wasn't born until 1918, it's as if he were strolling alongside Gorky and Tomchak and the other personalities that feature into his tale during that awful time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I have read this book many times. It "works" on many different levels. For me, one of its most fascinating aspects is how it examines the career of the typical engineer. How as one moves from creator to manager, the thrill of invention is lost. The process is the same in today's USA as it was in the 1950's USSR.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amy brown
One of the best books I have ever read. Solzhenitsyn is a truly gifted writer who immerses his reader into an ordinary day in a Soviet work camp. A must read for anyone with any interest in the topic. 10/10 would read again.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ehikhamenor ehizele
Solshenitzyn portrays with lucidness and realism the horrors that took place in the Soviet Union's prison camps. Many of the tactics used by the USSR are depicted in the novel. What intrigued me the most was how labor was used to eliminate any sense of time and contact with the outside world. It demonstrates how Soviet psychology, which delved in mind-manipulating techniques, implemented its horrid program of human conditioning. The book, above every thing else, depicts the endurance of the human spirit in the midst of the most horrid conditions that man is capabale of creating. A Day in the Life... is a must read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Although difficult to follow at times, this work relates the tragedy of war, specifically war undertaken without the proper understanding and preparation necessary to sucessfully see it through. The sections written as a screen play are a mystery to this reader, even though the content of these sections are vital. Particularly touching and poignant is the sheer frustration experienced by the fictional Colonel sent to Second Army, and particularly sad and ironic is the account of Gen. Samsonov's turmoil, from the moment we are first introduced to him, to the bitter and unnecessary fate which is his.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
heba ibrahim
A.S. in a short masterpiece clearly describes a world of which I knew little, and now I know some. Most of my Russian reading has been confined to the pre-revolutionary era, and it is interesting to contrast work to my favorites of Tolstoy and Chekhov. In short, A.S. is much to the point, informal, and writes with accuracy and a minimum of characterization. It's a fine book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I had to read "Day in the Life" over ten years ago for a russian history class. It instantly became one of my favorites. For a taste of social history in Soviet Russia, the book is unparalleled. Aside from that, the book doubles as an insightful devotional. Yes, Ivan had a horrible experience, but he lived every day to its fullest and was thankful for it.
In answer to some other reviews, yes, it is slow at times, but it is @160 pages about one day! If you're willing to be patient the book is an incredible experience.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenn manley lee
"slow" and "plodding" were the words i heard used to describe this novel by my classmates, but if you don't believe that the life in a Gulag was monotonous, you've probably got another thing coming. the basic joy of a bowl of warm food, a cigarette or a few seconds of rest were the lasting impressions i got from this novel and they make you think the next time you yell at your computer for being too slow, how it could be if you were born in a country which came as close as any has to being a situation straight out of "1982". an excellent read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read this book at 13 years old and was wowed by the simplicity with which the author tells his story. It is a very powerful narrative. Don't get me wrong- this is a book for adults. I just happen to fancy the great classics. After reading this book, it became my favorite novel of all time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch," is one of my favorite stories because Solzhenitsyn
is delightful. He fashions brilliant images (think sun-on-snow) and vivid descriptions of familiar thoughts and feelings. Or perhaps NOT so familiar, because in this fictionalized account of his own time in a Soviet labor camp, he displays a positive attitude, enjoys charming friendships, and even sees some good in his captors.
I reread this regularly for the sheer joy I feel being with Ivan D.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
helle gadsb ll
This fine novel about a day in the life of a prisoner in the soviet penal system is short enough to be read in one or two sittings and vivid enough to paint a realistic picture of many a soviet gulag's hapless inhabitants.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
a beautifully told tale of Stalinist work camps from a man who lived them. a great starting point for those interested in 20th century Russian literature and/or Solzhenitsyn. An easy one day read and a cornerstone work of one of the greatest minds in the 20th century.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Title: August 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Pages: 622

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 or 5 years.

Days spent reading it: 6 days.

Why I read it: In high school I was forced to read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." I remember not liking it at all. I thought it was boring. But many things I found boring in high school I now enjoy. So I thought I would read another novel by Solzhenitsyn, and see how it went.

Brief review: I am not sure what I was expecting, but this book was not it. From Solzenhitsyn I guess I expected a little more. The characters were fairly flat, thus it was difficult to tell one officer from another. The fighting sequences were complicated. I had no idea if an advance was good or bad, even after the battle was explained. I have read good war novels that explain complicated maneuvers. The Killer Angels comes to mind as a good example, where I could envision the entire battle and basic battle plans were given as pictures on occasion so I understood the flow of the battle better. That was not present in August 1914 and I think the book suffers because of it.

I have no deep understanding of the Russian front during World War I. So this was my first real exposure to that era. One thing that is brought out in this book was how terrible the conditions of war are. My tenth grade English teacher once summed up every war novel. She said their theme is always very simple: "War is hell." August 1914 does not press this point as much as other novels, but it does convey the hardships endured by the soldiers of the day. The one overriding theme that I did understand was that the Russian generals were completely incompetent in this battle. From start to finish Solzenhitsyn blasts the generals in charge of this offensive (and defensive) blunder.

I had a few qualms with this book in its current form. First, every now and then the narrative stops and we are given these "scenes" that are written with screen play directions. These directions were apparently how Solzenhitsyn envisioned this book on film. It was strange to break the flow of the story in order to introduce his vision for another medium. It felt like the book was 90% complete, not 100% complete. And, oddly, chapter 22 was omitted "by the request of the author." Strange. I have read that this book was revised later and nearly 200 pages were added to it. I don't think I could read through 200 more pages, but I wonder if it would clarify some of the issues I had with the work.

Anyway, in brief, this book was alright, but I would not read it again and I would not recommend it to anyone unless they were extremely interested in Russian literature (or possibly Russian history).

Favorite quote: "Evil people always support each other; that is their chief strength."

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Final Word: Bland.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Solzhenitsyn's character development is always amazing but, this book went beyond anything I have ever experienced before. The story of Nerzhin and Nadya was especially moving and captivating. Volodin's story of the Lubyanka made me feel as though I was actually there within the cold, towering walls. It is incredible how Solzhenitsyn can bring his characters down to the deepest levels of dispair and yet provide a glimmer of hope and humanity. I have read a few of Solzhenitsyn's novels before, and this, my latest, was exceptional.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hrrr grumble grumble grumble. He's refered to as Shukov because THAT'S HIS LAST NAME. Ivan Denisovich Shukov. Anyone who takes a second to look at Russian names would realise that Denisovich is a patronymic, meaning that his father's name was Denis, and a lot of Russian last names end in -ov (-ova for the women). And Lorina, he didn't escape alone, but most of the others were shot trying to get back, he's not stopped on the way to the mess hall but for not getting up on time, and he doesn't have 3653 days LEFT. That's the total sentence. 365 times ten plus 3 for leap years. He's gone through a bit more than 8 years. God, next time think before you write.
But seriously, other people, read it. I found this one of the best books I've ever read (not really but it seemed so at the time). It's a pessimistic book, about the barbarity of man, and the price of freedom, and so on, though I'm sure Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote it to reveal the truth to post-Stalinist Russia. It made me really question what matters in life etc etc all that other stuff.
Worth the read
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
joshua rosenblum
..they're the ones who lick other prisoners' bowls after the others have finished eating.
No understanding of the 20th century is complete without knowledge of the Soviet labor camps. This book provides that in a couple of hours.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book will absolutely challenge your political and spiritual ideas, no matter what they are! I was brought to my knees in gratitude for the freedom we have in America after finishing this book. A true miracle that it ever got published, with all the KGB attacks and threats. A MUST READ!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mahvesh siddiqui
Solzhenitsyn's novel on one day in the life of a labor camp prisoner is a good read for anyone who wants to see what a typical day was like in one of Stalin's prison camps. Ivan Denisovich is not in a hard labor camp though, because he is a political prisoner, but the novel still covers many important topics such as food, illness, work, sleep, and society. I found that the ending was particularly powerful as it perfectly parallels the main theme of the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mark harding
This Solzhenitsyn's shortest and most accessible novel and a must read for anyone interested in the human condition. In this reading I was struck by the almost impersonal grinding mechanism of the gulag.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Where are the all the cyber-communists calling this book lies as they do Robert Conquest's "The Great Terror"?

If you enjoy the human spirit squirting away from under the totalitarian heel then you'll love this book, which is packed tight with erudition and acute observation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
susan lundstedt
I can highly suggest this novel to anyone. It follows the main character Ivan coping with the challenges as prisoner of a soviet era gulag. Although a depressing read at times, it left me enriched and strangely uplifted after I finished it. It is a book about survival, coping with hardships, appreciating the little things in life and observations on human nature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kelley st coeur
This book was pretty good. The author's style is nice and clear; and if you are confused about any terms, the book explains them. The only problem, I felt, was that the book became boring at times. The reason for this was the book covers only one day in the life of a man so there is a large amount of explaining. I did enjoy the presentation and how the book progressed as it followed Ivan, told the story realistically, and was clear. This book is for an audience that enjoys history and can read through a book with a lot of explaining.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
scott haraburda
Everyone should read this book every 5 years. I just did, and it reminded me how absurd it would be for me to complain about anything. The last page is the most poignant... how on earth could Shukhov say "Shukhow felt pleased with life as he went to sleep. A lot of good things had happened that day...". The Russians have something important to teach us. We should grow up.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
There's some shock value in this understated portrayal of a day in a Russian forced labor camp. As a snapshot of a day a lifestyle where keeping warm and getting an extra crumb to eat are constant obsessions, this is effective. But this is not really a novel. There's no plot, not a lot of character development, very little suspense, and not even a lot of dialogue.

If you were only to read one book by Solzenhitsyn, this should not be it. This short work doesn't even begin to approach the brilliant character development and insight into human motivations of one of Solzhenitsyn's longer works, such as First Circle.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The best so far of Solzhenitsyn's study of good and evil. The characters represent different world views from Christian to Marxist. This edition (2009) is the complete uncensored version so if you read the previous censored version it did not contain the most powerful chapters.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
How little we know of suffering becomes clearly obvious when we're through reading this novel. Digging into frozen ground at 20 degrees below zero and praying to God for the sun to hit mid-sky for lunch was an everyday event for the prisoners of this brutal camp. If one cannot gain insight into the character and feelings of the suffering human through the rich text of this novel, may I suggest a one-way ticket to Siberia?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said about this book. If you haven't read it, you should.

One can't help but walk away viewing Ivan Denisovich as more of an old friend than as a character in a Russian novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lori cochrane
A novel relating a day in the life of a Siberian labor camp inmate. It lacks the gripping quality of books such as Journey Into the Whirlwind, but portrays well the details of an average prisoner's life and thoughts.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
dyah rinni
One Day expresses important themes of optimism that was needed to survive in a concentration camp like Ivan Denosivich does in this book. He does this very well by putting Ivan though a day filled with simplistic activities. However, the book can seem booring at times because of the booring and unimportant events. You think to yourself "do we really need to read this much about him building a brick wall?" Overall, the book had a good purpose and themes but the storyline was a little unexpresive.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Still helps me put my life in perspective. Sleeping in the freezing cold night after night with morsels of food and the constant fear of beatings. Survival becomes everything. All the extras we desire and fret over mean nothing in this condition. A salutary reminder in these days of the western obsession with hedonism and "self-fulfilment" that 90% of the world just want to keep themselves and their loved ones warm and fed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
joe graff
Prior to reading this book, I had never read anything by and heard very little about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The book lacked the tedium that I often find in rather lengthy books; for being 600 pages it was a page turner. The format was unique and the insight into the Russian front over the first days of the war was interesting. I would definitely suggest this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I had to get this book for some college history class that I took, and didn't get around to reading it untill months after I was supposed to. Once I picked it up, it was hard to put down. There's something inspiring about it, as well as frightening. A good insight into the scary Soviet era.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jeff bradley
You'll be chilled by the descriptions of barbed wire, guard dogs, subzero temperatures and gulag sadism. You'll be exhilarated by Ivan's joy and pride in building a simple brick wall. Anyone who has ever wondered how hope can exist in seemingly hopeless conditions should read this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
abby johnson
I purchased this book because my grandfather was one of the Western Ukrainians that was imprisoned in these gulags. Reading the book was almost like listening to him tell the story personally. Highly recommend this book
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
beth kondonijakos
No author can better master the tale of the Gulag than Solzhenitsyn. The fact that he personally spent time in one may be considered by many to be the reason for this, but in truth there were many people who could both write and were thrown into one of these concentration camps. Solzhenitsyn's account is the best because his skill as a writer is superb. I highly reccomend this read for anyone of any age, it is a quick, enthralling, and informative book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dawn theriault
I recommend this book to anyone who likes history. I appreciated Solzhenitsyn's direct style of writing. Just the diet of the prisoners was a shock. But the overall thing that came across was that these people seemed to have no reason to live another day, except for looking forward to getting out.
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