One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Denisovich cover

The biggest thing I took away from this book was the decision that I will never, ever complain about how cold it is again. I thought I was desensitized to cold weather, being a Midwesterner, but then Solzhenitsyn came along and said, “Oh, you think you know cold? Bitch, in Soviet Russia, cold snaps you!” (sorry, like twenty of those jokes occurred to me while reading this and I couldn’t resist) Seriously though, in this book, fourteen below qualifies as “not so bad.”

The book delivers exactly what the title promises: it describes the entire day, from waking up to falling asleep, of a man named Ivan Denisovich (Shukhov) in a Siberian work camp in Soviet Russia. Every single thing he does gets described, and if nothing else you will learn the complex social system and rules of a work camp, and how someone can survive in one for years without dying or completely falling apart. The tone is relentlessly bland and bleak, and nothing particularly exciting or revelatory ever happens. It’s just a normal day, with good parts, bad parts, and a lot of tedium and repetition. It’s a good thing that this is such a short book – the bleak tone and lack of plot works well for illustrating how repetitive and uninteresting life in a work camp was, but would have gotten really irritating if it continued any longer.

Okay, one more: In Soviet Russia, camp works you!

Verdict: three out of five stars

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