Henry Avila's Reviews > Cancer Ward

Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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Mar 21, 2012

really liked it
Read from April 11 to 23, 2012 , read count: 1

Scene: Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Central Asia, in the old Soviet Union, two years after the death of the brutal dictator, Stalin (1955). Oleg Kostoglotov is lying on the floor of a provincial hospital, at the entrance to the cancer ward, which is unpromising named , the 13th wing, looking up at the cold ceiling, his dead eyes stare. He can't get admitted until a space is available, but a vacancy will arrive soon, he feels death near. Meanwhile stoic Kostoglotov, a survivor of the infamous Gulag, and a permanent exile, can wait, the very sick Russian has little hope for recovery. Finally, Oleg gets in, nine beds in two rows , separated by an aisle in the middle of the room , all the men are dispirited and quiet, except a youth , who is moaning by the corner, unheeded, slowly dying. Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov, has no problem getting a coveted bed , he is an important bureaucrat, but cancer has no favorites, he will discover, shortly. The pitiless Yefrem, the dark joker of the ward, and a much hated man, greets Pavel with these words, " Well, what have we here? Another nice little cancer! " Rusanov, the great man, is not amused, he has connections, a famous Moscow clinic , Rusanov expects soon to be going to, looks down on these people, dirty peasants. Pavel shouldn't be with such riffraff, he has sent many of them , lowlifes, to the labor camps, most never to return, but rumors that the survivors are "returning", makes him feel uneasy, things are changing, not for the better, Rusanov thinks. To the inmates of the cancer ward, reading, is enjoyable, their only entertainment, to pass the dreary time, boredom makes them lethargic. Passing read books to each other, in the ward, some of these, like flies, are seen and quickly float away, others stick to you like molasses on hair. Still Oleg Kostoglotov, even has time to romance two women, Vera, a pretty, friendly doctor in the hospital, and Zoya, even more beautiful and younger nurse, studying to become a physician also. Most of the doctors in the clinic, are women here, a low -paying profession then, the head physician is, of course a man, but does Oleg have the right, because of his serious illness, to dream about his future, with a family of his own, to love? One by one , all Oleg's friends, leave the room and go home, to die? This mystery is never explained, strangers now occupy the beds, as a character in the novel says, you can't know everything in the world, whatever happens you'll die a fool... An especially well written autobiographical novel, Solzhenitsyn is showing, through Oleg Kostoglotov, based on his own life, how dehumanizing the old Soviet system was, nobody but the high party members were treated well, everyone supposedly equal, but in reality, some "more equal than others"... And the bleakness of life, the lack of freedom and hope, the ennui, that stifles the spirit of mankind.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda A sobering read, no doubt.


Henry Avila Yes,but interesting,very interesting indeed, Arah-Lynda.Always keep on learning.


message 3: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Great review, this one seems very powerful!


Henry Avila It is s. Penkevich. But it should be read.Thank you again.


message 5: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I was going to say that it was great to revisit Cancer Ward with you, Henry, but 'great' isn't the right word. In any case, after so many years, I hardly recognized it.


Henry Avila A very fine and important novel, Fionnuala, how people need hope, to survive any hardships.


message 7: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King A super review Henry.

I read this book so many years ago that I cannot really remember it. I do recall thinking at the time that it was "depressing brilliance".


Henry Avila Not as depressing as you might think, Lynne. Life goes on, until there is no more. Even romance for some patients.


message 9: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Russell Fine review. I read this profound novel 30 years ago. Powerful story.


Henry Avila It is and should be read,Glenn.What a great novel...


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