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Cancer Ward

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  13,529 ratings  ·  691 reviews
One of the great allegorical masterpieces of world literature, Cancer Ward is both a deeply compassionate study of people facing terminal illness and a brilliant dissection of the “cancerous” Soviet police state.
Paperback, 576 pages
Published May 1st 2003 by Vintage Classics (first published 1968)
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  13,529 ratings  ·  691 reviews

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Pain in its purest form!

At the time when I first read this, I didn't know much of the Soviet Union, or of writers' fate within that state, or of cancer and its silent, treacherous spread in secret weak spots of the body. I was a young teenager, and had been told that this might be a bit too difficult for me to take from my parents' bookshelf - which constituted a natural invitation to do exactly that of course. The ensuing problem - nightmares I could not talk about, as I had read the book in
Henry Avila
Mar 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Do I remember the Cold War? You bet I do. I think about it every day. It is as fundamental a part of my upbringing -- as defining of me as Catholicism, American Patriotism, Canadian Anti-Americanism, homophobia, abuse and bisexuality.

It wasn't just something that was happening in the world. In my household, with an American father, a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran (he was a Coastie who was all set to go to Vietnam with U.S. Coast Guard Squadron One -- and wanted to go -- when the U.S. finally pulled o
Ahmad Sharabiani
Ра́ковый ко́рпус = Rákovy kórpus = Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Cancer Ward is a semi-autobiographical novel by Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Completed in 1966, the novel was distributed in Russia that year in samizdat, and banned there the following year.

The plot focuses on a group of patients as they undergo crude and frightening treatment in a squalid hospital. Cancer Ward tells the story of a small group of patients in Ward 13, the cancer ward of a hospita
Dana Ilie
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cancer Ward can be read purely as a literary work, without the reader ever knowing the circumstances in which it was written, without recognizing the larger picture that the book rounds up, of the excruciatingly totalitarian regime under which Russian writers, intellectuals and artists worked, and were finally silenced if they raised their voices against oppression.
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, favourites
Like the blood transfusion Kostoglotov received from Gangard, I literally felt this book flow through my veins. I was wary of the injection at the beginning, a bit numb in the middle and completely intoxicated toward the end.

In fact, I think this might be the best piece of literature I have come across so far in my life.

First of all - the characters. Despite being confined to the same small space and sharing a common fate, they are very colourful, different from each other and interesting in the
Aug 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cultured, mmix
Cancer Ward … hmmm… Oh, Cancer Ward….

What was I expecting from you? Certainly not a frolicky day in the park… no Maurice Chevalier dance routines. Nope. I can’t say I was duped.

Cancer sucks. Hell, I’m not spouting some fresh angle on an old dictum. Just nod and agree, folks. Most of us have had some dealings with it, some more than others… it’s one of the nastiest things out there… rots you from the inside out, leaves you to dwell on things left unaccomplished and fills your head with messy wo
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-list
“In the midst of life we are in death.”

The beauty of Cancer Ward is that it illustrates the fact that, quite often, the opposite is true too: even in the midst of death, we can still find so much life. For me, this was by far the most compelling aspect of the novel, that the characters you meet are so vibrantly, tenaciously alive, and that they feel so utterly real. Solzhenitsyn wrote this with his whole heart; his compassion for his characters is undeniable. Overall, an unexpectedly life-af
Ammara Abid
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional and ingenious piece of writing, "Cancer Ward"
Terribly terrific,
Painstakingly beautiful,
One more, later on, later on.

Keeping the review aside, let me say first, 'Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn' is one of the greatest literary craftsman & he 'Must Be Read'.

Before saying anything else let me confess this man is my another favorite Russian writer.

That's my second book by him (the first was "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich") and I'm startled by his eloquent description of those harsh
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
”He was dead but his star burned, it kept burning...
But its light was wasted.
It wasn’t the sort of star that still gives light after being extinguished. It was the sort of star that shines, still shines with all its light, yet no one sees the light or needs it.”

Cancer Ward is like a grief-kissed dream: mournful, vivid, and lasting. The disease is merciless, and the war to combat it tireless. Solzhenitsyn doesn’t pander with unrealistic dialogue or outlandish storylines; he simply tells the stor
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the best examples, for me, of Russian writers making stones "stonier". It was almost an out of body experience to read this. I felt it, saw it, smelled it, heard it. As I read on, I imagined I became physically unwell and increasingly so, but only when I was reading this book. It sounds like madness but that is how supernaturally vivid I found this. Incredible immersive reading experience from a genius.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mother-rus
A man of no talent craves long life, yet Epicurus had once observed that a fool, if offered eternity, would not know what to do with it.

Cancer Ward (CW) consciously strives for the epic, readily aware of the distance between itself and the baggy monsters of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and yet sways in the limitations of the material especially in moral terms. Unlike Europe after the Shoah, the Soviet experiment had different questions to ask itself after Stalin's death. Caught almost in the sway of s
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cancer ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was published in 1968. This was his 5th book and one of his best. I find Solzhenitsyn to be incredibly refreshing and truthful. As an author/person Solzhenitsyn is one of my favorites, he is a true inspiration. Cancer ward was fantastic, it was thoughtful, funny, sad, and addictive to read. Plenty of times I found myself laughing out loud. The story telling is captivating, the descriptive writing is on point. Overall this was a very enjoyable read and anothe ...more
I have a fond recollection of reading this book off my parent's bookshelves but I don't think I'll return to it. Flicking through it ,there a dry prose style, the central character looks to be a barely disguised authorial self-portrait. It suffers, even as Cold war condemnation of the Soviet Union, in comparison to The Foundation Pit or Moscow Stations - though admittedly Moscow Stations central message of alcoholism as a means of opting out of everything is not culturally or temporally specific ...more
Biblio Curious
This book is just so human.

Dostoevsky said about Victor Hugo's The Last Day of a Condemned Man, "Absolutely the most read and truthful of everything that Hugo wrote."

Without being arrogant and just my strong opinion as a reader, Cancer Ward has to be the most human and honest book by Solzhenitsyn. There are scenes where if we look into our heart, we would do or feel the same thing, I'm sure of it. Solzhenitsyn included so many aspects of what makes us human and puts them into a mere few hundre
Judy Vasseur
Jan 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"Well, what have we here? Another nice little cancer!"

"The hard lump of his tumor—unexpected, meaningless and quite without use—had dragged him in like a fish on a hook and flung him onto this iron bed—a narrow, mean bed, with creaking springs and an apology for a mattress."

Solzhenitsyn writes beautifully about human physical, moral, social, and political conditions; over-layering each consideration one upon the other. His books do not depress me, I find them powerful and hopeful documents to th
Nick Imrie
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've spent so long reading this book about a whole load of people who have a whole load of cancer that I've almost started to entertain the superstition that all this thinking about cancer might give me cancer, like summoning a demon by speaking its name.
Nevertheless, I will be thinking about it a little more as I try to write a proper review because this was an truly amazing book that somehow managed to show me all of life and death in just a few hundred pages. I loved all the fellas from the c
Jun 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This work of Russian literature -which is quite epic in scope-deals with many themes.
It is set in a clinic in Soviet ruled Uzbekistan for cancer patients ,in the mid 1950's ,shortly after the death of Joseph Stalin.
It deals with the personal stories and lives of many different characters
There are parallels between the cancer that ravages the bodies of the dying patients and the cancer of Communism that ravaged the once proud Russia.
The hero of the novel is Oleg Kostolgotov who has gone from bein
Finally, a Russian book that I REALLY liked! This is an extremely well written, slow paced story of the daily life of patients and employees at a cancer ward somewhere in an Asian Soviet republic in 1954, with the soviet mindset, customs, oppression and resignation, coupled with fear of death. Wonderfully interesting!

Moon Rose
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Moon Rose by: Henry Avila
As the cliche goes, money is the root of all evil, and many would agree that indeed it is. On the contrary, it contradicts the essence of what had become human living since time immemorial. As human living immersed itself voluntarily in the deep dark materiality of existence, as it is beleaguered by the sensual pleasures of physicality. In truth, the want of money is only a direct object. It appears only as the end goal to attain the inexhaustible, human yearning for material happiness . This ...more
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“A man dies from a tumour, so how can a country survive with growths like labour camps and exiles?"
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian-authors
Solzhenitsyn deservedly earned the Nobel Prize for this and his other works in 1970. The story is about a small group of patients receiving treatment in a cancer ward in one of the old Soviet Union Central Asian republics.

Oleg Kostoglotov is a wonderful character as are Rusanov, Dyoma, Yefrem, Vega, Zoya and of course Shulubin a Bolshevik scholar regretting all the comprises made to survive. The story is also semi-autobiographical and draws on Solzhenitsyn’s own gulags and cancer experiences fo
Sean Blake
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favourites
Cancer Ward is like all the other greats of Russian literature: Dense, passionate and rewarding. This truly beautiful novel is, to me, the best Russian novel of the twentieth century, and Solzhenitsyn is one of Russia's greatest writers ever to have lived.
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2015
I loved this book about life as is and how it should not be. It's a very sad story and somehow the ending left me with broken heart.
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
The greyness of the cancer theme (it's set in a cancer ward) is just like a mirroring backdrop for the Soviet Union that it showcases. Vignettes of the lives of patients, doctors, nurses and others; from the high-ranking and staunch Soviet bureaucrat Rusanov to the poor exile Kostoglotov, it breaks their political and ideological positions down to their narrower human concerns and desires, such as the materialism of Rusanov's home that he enjoys, or Kostoglotov's desire for a woman that takes up ...more
Sep 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
In this novel Solsjenitsyn is above all a Russian writer: lots of characters (patients, doctors, nurses in the cancer ward of a hospital, somewhere in Central Asia, in the mid-50's, in full Soviet era). He takes his time to describe some of these characters in full, and through them he brings up existential, political and social questions. Let's say he offers a mix of Tolstoi and Dostojevski, although he is less whirling and feverish than those two classic models.
The construction of the novel is
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the allegorical nature of this book.

However, the characterization was what struck me most.

Particularly hat of Dontsova with whom I deeply identified, who fights a disease in others regardless of cost; but is humbled by that self- same illness.

The following two quotes were, for me particularly evocative:

"We are so attached to the earth and yet we are incapable of holding on to it"

"Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside of me is not all of me. There's something else, subli
Nov 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2010
I was slow to pick this one up, "After all," I thought, "how interesting can a book be about a ward full of cancer patients?" The answer is very interesting. This is an excellent book. It is a remarkable contrast to the epic fictional works of his that I've read of his. It is intimate, romantic, personal, and tragic. I heartily recommend this book.
Larry Bassett
Nov 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Cancer Ward sat on my parents’ bookshelf for most of my adult life. I never was tempted to touch it or any of the other Solzhenitsyn books. I was really terrified by those Russian authors. You know the ones: Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Pasternak, Nabokov. Some of those books were big! And I was not a big book person.

Cancer Ward forced me to reassess my fear. Now The Gulag Archipelago is on my to-read shelf with Crime and Punishment and more of those Russian novels to come one of these days!

This book
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
There's something sobering about this novel.

Weighing in at over 500 pages and easily the heaviest thing in my bag, Cancer Ward would seem to come to a definite conclusion, be it comforting or disturbing, by its denouement. But Solzhenitsyn offers nothing of the sort. Rather, we must revel in the beautiful ambiguity of this novel, and, in so doing, revel in the often frustrating, poignant, and somber ambiguity of life.

This novel is at once both a metaphorical critique of Soviet Russia as well as
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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (Russian: Александр Иса́евич Солженицын) was a Soviet and Russian novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his writings he helped to make the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system—particularly The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, two of his best-known works.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in

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