“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” is a very fast and easy read (140 pages), a stark contrast to most of the Russian literature I’ve read so far. The publication of this book, which is an open account of Stalinist repression in concentration camps, marks a turning point in Soviet literature and censorship (in 1962).
The book describes the routine of a prisoner- Ivan Denisovich Shukorov during a typical day at a penal prison camp as per the Gulag system during the Soviet regime. The prisoners have to brave the inhuman cold and work as per the instructions of the wardens else they might be beaten up or sentenced to spend days in a cooler. The time of waking up, eating, working and even calling in sick was fixed and so was their food ration, their warm clothes etc. Thus prisoners did not have absolutely any freedom of choice. They are allowed to write to their family only once a year. Through this communication, Shukorov learns that all farmers from his village had bribed the officials to relieve them from farm work on collective farms so they can paint profitable, sleazy carpets using stencils. Shukorov could not comprehend how could one give up one’s own trade.
Shukorov has spent 8 years in the camp and has learnt to survive there and appreciate the little things. He calls this day lucky since he has managed to get more than the usual ration of food, overlooking the fact that he had to work hard despite his body aching because of the cold. He isn’t sure if he’ll ever be able to leave the camp. Each prisoner has been slapped a sentence of 10 or 25 years on flimsy grounds and upon completion of the sentence another 10 year sentence is usually slapped on.
Although the book reflects these nuances of the Soviet regime under Stalin, the work is comparable to other works that depict the struggle for survival under inhumane conditions. It reminded me of “Life and the Times of Michael K. To get a complete picture of the Gulag System, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago is highly recommended and is on my “to read” list now.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, (Anti)Modernist (3quarksdaily.com)
- Enduring the Soviet Gulags with Dignity (hague6185.wordpress.com)
- Who was Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Why read his books? (insightscoop.typepad.com)