Mariel's Reviews > One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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Aug 27, 2011

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Recommended to Mariel by: penguins
Recommended for: don't get your honey where you make your money
Read in August, 2011

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's novel is over wrought like a fence. (It would have to be a barbed wire fence guarded by guards with hard-ons for injustice and big drooling trained guard doggies. One inmate stuck his tongue to the frozen pole on a dare and another can't get his head out because there is no butter.)

Heaven exists in the gulag in the shape of snow angels. Arms flapping hopelessly in the snow shapes of angels. We'll lay side by side and look up at the frost cracks in the ceiling tracing the stellar patterns of true north shapes. How could this happen, I ask through my frozen tears (it looks like Johnny Depp's single tear drop in Cry Baby if it were a diamond instead of a tattoo)? All I did was make one lousy joke and the audience sent me to prison. The star stays in the same place, guiding to the same exact same spot of toiling in place. Tomorrow is today.

No two snowflakes are alike (still, they are all cold). Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about the gulag a lot. He pretty much only wrote about prison (his cancer book must be prison inside your own dying body). I'd read some years ago a condensed (shhhh) part one (shhhh! My street cred... keep it down!) edition of his The Gulag Archipelago (a library book sale purchase. Feel free to brag I got it for a quarter). I recently read another gulag book. I've read a lot of books about prison these days (I remember when it was my empathetic nightmare. I'll read about skydiving next because I'm fearless). Why would a man who spent an inarguably formative chunk (a chunk like a bread ration! Hey, read enough of these and you'll start thinking in terms of food rations too. Pounds of flesh and ounces of bread. It's my bread and butter, man) of his life in prison want to eek out his mental life in the same cold place? Yesterday is today.

I keep reading these because I want to know how each day of the same, that can only end one way, can be different (Eskimos do have a ton of different words for snow). Ways to get through not as much as retaining your own life force beat in a tide you cannot swim against. Something like "Hey, they stole less of my food ration this time" is a good day. Losing your rag to protect against the arctic chill is a bad day. I feel like I know more about the inside of the eyelids day view from that than a big picture. I keep reading the same for the differences. Differences are hope for change. The big picture is too much the same if you view it from outer space (Hi, Laika! We love it here on planet Earth). Can you slow it down enough to tell time?

If Solzhenitsyn didn't rule his day like an iron fence... I feel like I know the big picture already. I know it sucks. I know what is probably most likely going to happen (making it out is like a cancer patient beating the odds. You still have to go through cancer and chemo and then spend the rest of your life in the debt to its memory). If there's an eye chart on the wall (It says Stalin! Communism! I can't see the big E for Eternity. Too big) to keep the place like all of the rape scenes in after school specials. "I shut my eyes and waited for it to be over! Teacher had a coffee stain on his tweed coat in the shape of the virgin Mary." The eye charts are the observations based on every other day to determine how this day is going to be exactly the same or slightly better or worse in some slightly different way. The future and the past should be heavier, not THAT day, not the whole damned wall (er, fence). Solzhenitsyn couldn't resist bearing down, I guess. Every day is today. Yesterday. Er, tomorrow. Shukhov's day was less patterns in a snowflake and the sound it makes under boots (if you're lucky enough to have boots). I'm miserable! Weeks turn into months. What's today?

They probably had hundreds of different words for shit. There was all different kinds of way to be shit on. It's still shit.

Solzhenitsyn must've stewed a lot. I bet he remembered every guy who ever stepped on his toe. (Is it wrong that I was happy he dissed a fake med student inmate who gave injections to helplessly ignorant inmates? Burn, Janusz Bardach! If he knew him specifically, anyway. And he dissed himself? The guy who spent all his time writing about the gulag because it was "important" to document.) Now we'll shoe them! (I swear, that was an honest typo. I really meant to type show.)

Pity party contest! Round one:

Solzhenitsyn versus Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky only served four years in Siberia under the Tsars. They had it so much easier under the Tsars! There was much less lice, a bit more leg room and less slave labor and control. The dogs weren't as good at sniffing out hard-ons yet. Dostoyevsky was such a pussy by comparison. Solzhenitsyn wins!

Round two: Solzhenitsyn versus inmates of the Pitesti prison. They'd torture them psychologically as well as physically. Sometimes they'd tell them it had all been a huge mistake and they could go home now. They'd walk them out the front gates and then there would be a guy with a gun to lead them back inside for another prison term. The guards pissed their pants laughing over the hopeful looks on those inmates faces (then they made them clean the pants). The Romanian gulag put the Soviet gulag to shame. Solzhenitsyn was a total pussy by comparison!

The winner gets a picket fence.
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg But what about Fydor's mock execution? Did Solzhenitsyn have a mock execution?


Mariel That was traditional by then. It's like complaining about the cold or that fur hats are ugly. Or remakes of British reality tv shows. Dostoyevsky is even pussier whining about being first.


message 3: by Greg (new)

Greg Maybe Siberia is just filled with pussies?


Mariel Totally. They are all blubbering cry babies. The Romanians were all, "Oh, you got me. Very funny." when the guards asked them if they wanted to sit down to a three course meal with them. "Sucker!"


Kristen Isn't that a myth about the Eskimos having all those different words for snow? I thought I heard that somewhere?


Mariel It was in the films snow day, snow buddies and snow dogs. If that doesn't convince you it was also in the film cool runnings.


Kristen An episode of Family Guy says otherwise.


Mariel If I were an Eskimo I'd make up words for snow so it would be true. My house would also be made of sugar cubes. I'd have to take up surfing in a reversal of cool runnings.


Kristen Kite Surfing!!!


Mariel I still need to do that. If I ever had thousands of money to dispose of.


message 11: by K.D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

K.D. Absolutely Nice review, Mariel.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Vinogradus Mariel wrote: "Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's novel is over wrought like a fence. (It would have to be a barbed wire fence...)"

I always wanted an overwrought-iron fence.


Mariel It's a castle.


message 14: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Vinogradus My mother said if I could find a castle, I could keep it.


Kristen I just reread your review after finishing this book, I love it that much more the second time around.


Mariel Gr does not send me notifications for comments like ever! Thanks, Kristen. But your review is better than mine. I think I lost my "point" in my usual useless yammering. But he totally did diss that asshole Janusz Bardach. I'm glad I have my reviews to remind me of stuff I nearly always forget. I didn't remember writing this review at all.


Kristen I LOVE your yammering!
As usually everyone thinks I'm joking but my jokes are almost always serious. That someone can live year after year with not even a glimmer of hope and still find something to feel joy about, like a potato in your gruel, man I get that. So what if the last potatoes I had were fried in duck fat and served with a currant sauce, my point is still valid. That part I feel like he got right, but in the end the book made me feel pretty much nothing, so I gave it a low'ish rating like you, but maybe nothing was what I was supposed to feel.


Mariel You totally need to read Carson McCullers. Please! The Member of the Wedding first.


Kristen Added it to my list.


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