Nice introduction to the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It’s hard to overstate the impact Alexander Solzhenitsyn's short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had on the Soviet totalitarian system. Published in 1962, this book was the first account of Stalin’s forced labor camps to be published inside the Soviet Union. Millions of Soviet citizens read it. Solzhenitsyn, who had himself served eight years hard labor for criticizing Stalin, became an overnight sensation. The Soviet government was so rattled by the public’s reception that two years later the government banned all works by Solzhenitsyn and proceeded to marginalize and repress him. In 1974 the government stripped him of his Soviet citizenship and deported him to West Germany.


Over the next three decades no one was more effective at exposing the moral rot at the core of Soviet totalitarianism — most powerfully in his masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago.


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich takes the reader through a single day in a labor camp, from reveille to lights out, through the eyes of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. A stark, powerful portrayal of the desperation of prisoners trying to survive and maintain their dignity in the harsh conditions of a Soviet prison camp.


One brief word about the characters in the book. One of the sympathetic characters in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a fellow prisoner, Alyosha the Baptist. As the day ends Shukhov and Alyosha are on their bunks having a conversation about prayer. Shukhov tells the Baptist that prayer doesn't work, and won't shorten anyone's sentence. Alyoshka explains that getting out of prison isn’t the point: "You mustn't pray for that. What do you want your freedom for? What faith you have left will be choked in thorns. Rejoice that you are in prison. Here you can think of your soul." (p.141.) Shukhov respected Alyosha as someone who read the gospels regularly, and who was generous with other prisoners. Shukhov reflects: "Alyoshka was talking the truth. You could tell by his voice and his eyes he was glad to be in prison."


It seems to me Solzhenitsyn is hinting at the spiritual transformation he experienced during his own imprisonment, which he details in more depth in The Gulag Archipelago. In The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn describes his gratitude for prison since it gave him an opportunity to nourish his own soul. "I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: Bless you prison, for having been in my life."


This little book my Bantam Classics version is 144 pages is a compelling introduction to Solzhenitsyn. Buy it from Amazon here