Emily'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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Mar 12, 2012

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Read in March, 2012

Happily, this book was not exactly what I expected it to be. Semi-autobiographical, this is a story literally about one whole day in the life of a man who is serving a ten-year sentence in a prison labor camp in Siberia during Stalin's regime. Ivan Denisovich is in his 8th year but does not have very high hopes of getting out when his term is up because, in his experience, no man had ever gone home. Their sentences were either extended, they were transferred to another camp, or they were indefinitely detained for one reason or another. This particular "day in the life" was 14 degrees below zero, and Ivan wakes up with a mild fever and aching body, but works hard outside from pre-sunup to post-sundown, while wearing rags and with nothing to sustain him but a few ounces of bread, some gruel, and some watery soup. (I'm aware that was a very ugly sentence, but I've got kids climbing all over me and I need to make dinner.)

As depressing as this premise is, One Day in the Life was not filled with senseless brutality or soul-crushing hopelessness like I had feared it might be. Ivan Denisovitch is a decent guy, as are most of the prisoners portrayed, and is able to make his life somehow worthwhile and even find some satisfaction and happiness. I kept fearing that on the next page, something violent and sickening would happen, but it never did. This particular day was a pretty good one, as far as days go in Siberia. It doesn't make light of the Soviet penal system, but seems to focus mainly on the monotony and ends up being a "human spirit triumphing over the crimes of humanity" type of story. As always, these stories fill me with sorrow that these types of events actually happened in real life, and also make me give thanks for my own blessings. I'll probably read this again someday.

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Quotes Emily Liked

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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