Book Briefs: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia in 1918, and for much of his life he experienced the crushing challenges of Stalinist repression. From 1945 to 1953 Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, serving in the Soviet Gulags (labor camps) about which he writes in this book. These experiences eventually led him to embrace Christianity. Solzhenitsyn is now considered one of Russia's great writers because of his potent ability to expose the cruel darkness and emptiness of Stalinist repression.

This book recounts a single day in the life of an ordinary prisoner in a Soviet Gulag. I found it to be an extraordinarily gripping tale of the struggle for human dignity in the face of human cruelty and wickedness. This short book serves as a great starting point for anyone interested in exploring the rich tradition of Russian literature.

In 1970 Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel prize in literature, in part for his work on this exceptional novel. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, but as long as he lived he devoted himself to carefully and accurately portraying the desolation of a Soviet society built on godlessness. He wrote:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."