One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Overview

The only English translation authorized by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is ...

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel

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Overview

The only English translation authorized by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as "a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy"—Harrison Salisbury

This unexpurgated 1991 translation by H. T. Willetts is the only authorized edition available and fully captures the power and beauty of the original Russian.

One of the most chilling novels ever written about the oppression of totalitarian regimes--and the first to open Western eyes to the terrors of Stalin's prison camps, this book allowed Solzhenitsyn, who later became Russia's conscience in exile, to challenge the brutal might of the Soviet Union.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich yields, more than anything else, a beautiful sense of its author as a Chekhovian figure: simple, free of literary affectation, wholly serious."—The New Republic
The Nation
A masterpiece...Squarely in the mainstream of Russia's great literary traditions.
Marc Slonim
He presents the most Karakaesque situations, the most gruesome details in a matter-of-fact manner, without exaggeration or indignation. His is a calm, stylized narrative by an extremely observant and intelligent man.-- Books of the Century; New York Times review, April 1963
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374529529
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/16/2005
  • Pages: 188
  • Sales rank: 57,108
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in 1918. In February 1945, while he was captain of a reconnaissance battery of the Soviet Army, he was arrested and sentenced to an eight-year term in a labor camp and permanent internal exile, which was cut short by Khrushchev's reforms, allowing him to return from Kazakhstan to Central Russia in 1956. Although permitted to publish One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962—which remained his only full-length work to have appeared in his homeland until 1990—Solzhenitsyn was by 1969 expelled from the Writers' Union. The publication in the West of his other novels and, in particular, of The Gulag Archipelago, brought retaliation from the authorities. In 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, stripped of his Soviet citizenship, and forcibly flown to Frankfurt. Solzhenitsyn and his wife and children moved to the United States in 1976. In September 1991, the Soviet government dismissed treason charges against him; Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994. He died in Moscow in 2008.

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Read an Excerpt

REVEILLE WAS sounded, as always, at 5 a.m.--a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ. The ringing noise came faintly on and off through the windowpanes covered with ice more than an inch thick, and died away fast. It was cold and the warder didn't feel like going on banging.

The sound stopped and it was pitch black on the other side of the window, just like in the middle of the night when Shukhov had to get up to go to the latrine, only now three yellow beams fell on the window--from two lights on the perimeter and one inside the camp.

He didn't know why but nobody'd come to open up the barracks. And you couldn't hear the orderlies hoisting the latrine tank on the poles to carry it out.

Shukhov never slept through reveille but always got up at once. That gave him about an hour and a half to himself before the morning roll call, a time when anyone who knew what was what in the camps could always scrounge a little something on the side. He could sew someone a cover for his mittens out of a piece of old lining. He could bring one of the big gang bosses his dry felt boots while he was still in his bunk, to save him the trouble of hanging around the pile of boots in his bare feet and trying to find his own. Or he could run around to one of the supply rooms where there might be a little job, sweeping or carrying something. Or he could go to the mess hall to pick up bowls from the tables and take piles of them to the dishwashers. That was another way of getting food, but there were always too many other people with the same idea. And the worst thing was that if there was something left in a bowl you started to lick it. You couldn't help it. And Shukhov could still hear the words of his first gang boss, Kuzyomin--an old camp hand who'd already been inside for twelve years in 1943. Once, by a fire in a forest clearing, he'd said to a new batch of men just brought in from the front:

"It's the law of the jungle here, fellows. But even here you can live. The first to go is the guy who licks out bowls, puts his faith in the infirmary, or squeals to the screws."

He was dead right about this--though it didn't always work out that way with the fellows who squealed to the screws. They knew how to look after themselves. They got away with it and it was the other guys who suffered.

Shukhov always got up at reveille, but today he didn't. He'd been feeling lousy since the night before--with aches and pains and the shivers, and he just couldn't manage to keep warm that night. In his sleep he'd felt very sick and then again a little better. All the time he dreaded the morning.
But the morning came, as it always did.

Anyway, how could anyone get warm here, what with the ice piled up on the window and a white cobweb of frost running along the whole barracks where the walls joined the ceiling? And a hell of a barracks it was.

Shukhov stayed in bed. He was lying on the top bunk, with his blanket and overcoat over his head and both his feet tucked in the sleeve of his jacket. He couldn't see anything, but he could tell by the sounds what was going on in the barracks and in his own part of it. He could hear the orderlies tramping down the corridor with one of the twenty-gallon latrine tanks. This was supposed to be light work for people on the sick list--but it was no joke carrying the thing out without spilling it!

Then someone from Gang 75 dumped a pile of felt boots from the drying room on the floor. And now someone from his gang did the same (it was also their turn to use the drying room today). The gang boss and his assistant quickly put on their boots, and their bunk creaked. The assistant gang boss would now go and get the bread rations. And then the boss would take off for the Production Planning Section (PPS) at HQ.

But, Shukhov remembered, this wasn't just the same old daily visit to the PPS clerks. Today was the big day for them. They'd heard a lot of talk of switching their gang--104--from putting up workshops to a new job, building a new "Socialist Community Development." But so far it was nothing more than bare fields covered with snowdrifts, and before anything could be done there, holes had to be dug, posts put in, and barbed wire put up--by the prisoners for the prisoners, so they couldn't get out. And then they could start building.

You could bet your life that for a month there'd be no place where you could get warm--not even a hole in the ground. And you couldn't make a fire--what could you use for fuel? So your only hope was to work like hell.

The gang boss was worried and was going to try to fix things, try to palm the job off on some other gang, one that was a little slower on the uptake. Of course you couldn't go empty-handed. It would take a pound of fatback for the chief clerk. Or even two.

Maybe Shukhov would try to get himself on the sick list so he could have a day off. There was no harm in trying. His whole body was one big ache.

Then he wondered--which warder was on duty today?

He remembered that it was Big Ivan, a tall, scrawny sergeant with black eyes. The first time you saw him he scared the pants off you, but when you got to know him he was the easiest of all the duty warders--wouldn't put you in the can or drag you off to the disciplinary officer. So Shukhov could stay put till it was time for Barracks 9 to go to the mess hall.

The bunk rocked and shook as two men got up together--on the top Shukhov's neighbor, the Baptist Alyoshka, and down below Buynovsky, who'd been a captain in the navy.

When they'd carried out the two latrine tanks, the orderlies started quarreling about who'd go to get the hot water. They went on and on like two old women. The electric welder from Gang 20 barked at them:

"Hey, you old bastards!" And he threw a boot at them. "I'll make you shut up."

The boot thudded against a post. The orderlies shut up.

The assistant boss of the gang next to them grumbled in a low voice:

"Vasili Fyodorovich! The bastards pulled a fast one on me in the supply room. We always get four two-pound loaves, but today we only got three. Someone'll have to get the short end."

He spoke quietly, but of course the whole gang heard him and they all held their breath. Who was going to be shortchanged on rations this evening?

Shukhov stayed where he was, on the hard-packed sawdust of his mattress. If only it was one thing or another--either a high fever or an end to the pain. But this way he didn't know where he was.

While the Baptist was whispering his prayers, the Captain came back from the latrine and said to no one in particular, but sort of gloating:

"Brace yourselves, men! It's at least twenty below."

Shukhov made up his mind to go to the infirmary.

And then some strong hand stripped his jacket and blanket off him. Shukhov jerked his quilted overcoat off his face and raised himself up a bit. Below him, his head level with the top of the bunk, stood the Thin Tartar.

So this bastard had come on duty and sneaked up on them.

"S-854!" the Tartar read from the white patch on the back of the black coat. "Three days in the can with work as usual."

The minute they heard his funny muffled voice everyone in the entire barracks--which was pretty dark (not all the lights were on) and where two hundred men slept in fifty bug-ridden bunks--came to life all of a sudden. Those who hadn't yet gotten up began to dress in a hurry.

"But what for, Comrade Warder?" Shukhov asked, and he made his voice sound more pitiful than he really felt.

The can was only half as bad if you were given normal work. You got hot food and there was no time to brood. Not being let out to work--that was real punishment.

"Why weren't you up yet? Let's go to the Commandant's office," the Tartar drawled--he and

Shukhov and everyone else knew what he was getting the can for.

There was a blank look on the Tartar's hairless, crumpled face. He turned around and looked for somebody else to pick on, but everyone--whether in the dark or under a light, whether on a bottom bunk or a top one--was shoving his legs into the black, padded trousers with numbers on the left knee. Or they were already dressed and were wrapping themselves up and hurrying for the door to wait outside till the Tartar left.

If Shukhov had been sent to the can for something he deserved he wouldn't have been so upset. What made him mad was that he was always one of the first to get up. But there wasn't a chance of getting out of it with the Tartar. So he went on asking to be let off just for the hell of it, but meantime pulled on his padded trousers (they too had a worn, dirty piece of cloth sewed above the left knee, with the number S-854 painted on it in black and already faded), put on his jacket (this had two numbers, one on the chest and one on the back), took his boots from the pile on the floor, put on his cap (with the same number in front), and went out after the Tartar.

The whole Gang 104 saw Shukhov being taken off, but no one said a word. It wouldn't help, and what could you say? The gang boss might have stood up for him, but he'd left already. And Shukhov himself said nothing to anyone. He didn't want to aggravate the Tartar. They'd keep his breakfast for him and didn't have to be told.

The two of them went out.

It was freezing cold, with a fog that caught your breath. Two large searchlights were crisscrossing over the compound from the watchtowers at the far corners. The lights on the perimeter and the lights inside the camp were on full force. There were so many of them that they blotted out the stars.

With their felt boots crunching on the snow, prisoners were rushing past on their business--to the latrines, to the supply rooms, to the package room, or to the kitchen to get their groats cooked. Their shoulders were hunched and their coats buttoned up, and they all felt cold, not so much because of the freezing weather as because they knew they'd have to be out in it all day. But the Tartar in his old overcoat with shabby blue tabs walked steadily on and the cold didn't seem to bother him at all.

They went past the high wooden fence around the punishment block (the stone prison inside the camp), past the barbed-wire fence that guarded the bakery from the prisoners, past the corner of the HQ where a length of frost-covered rail was fastened to a post with heavy wire, and past another post where--in a sheltered spot to keep the readings from being too low--the thermometer hung, caked over with ice. Shukhov gave a hopeful sidelong glance at the milk-white tube. If it went down to forty-two below zero they weren't supposed to be marched out to work. But today the thermometer wasn't pushing forty or anything like it.

They went into HQ--straight into the warders' room. There it turned out--as Shukhov had already had a hunch on the way--that they never meant to put him in the can but simply that the floor in the warders' room needed scrubbing. Sure enough, the Tartar now told Shukhov that he was letting him off and ordered him to mop the floor.

Mopping the floor in the warders' room was the job of a special prisoner--the HQ orderly, who never worked outside the camp. But a long time ago he'd set himself up in HQ and now had a free run of the rooms where the Major, the disciplinary officer, and the security chief worked. He waited on them all the time and sometimes got to hear things even the warders didn't know. And for some time he'd figured that to scrub floors for ordinary warders was a little beneath him. They called for him once or twice, then got wise and began pulling in ordinary prisoners to do the job.

The stove in the warders' room was blazing away. A couple of warders who'd undressed down to their dirty shirts were playing checkers, and a third who'd left on his belted sheepskin coat and felt boots was sleeping on a narrow bench. There was a bucket and rag in the corner.

Shukhov was real pleased and thanked the Tartar for letting him off:

"Thank you, Comrade Warder. I'll never get up late again."

The rule here was simple--finish your job and get out. Now that Shukhov had been given some work, his pains seemed to have stopped. He took the bucket and went to the well without his mittens, which he'd forgotten and left under his pillow in the rush.

The gang bosses reporting at the PPS had formed a small group near the post, and one of the younger ones, who was once a Hero of the Soviet Union, climbed up and wiped the thermometer.

The others were shouting up to him: "Don't breathe on it or it'll go up."

"Go up . . . the hell it will . . . it won't make a fucking bit of difference anyway."

Tyurin--the boss of Shukhov's work gang--was not there. Shukhov put down the bucket and dug his hands into his sleeves. He wanted to see what was going on.

The fellow up the post said in a hoarse voice: "Seventeen and a half below--shit!"
And after another look just to make sure, he jumped down.

"Anyway, it's always wrong--it's a damned liar," someone said. "They'd never put in one that works here."

The gang bosses scattered. Shukhov ran to the well. Under the flaps of his cap, which he'd lowered but hadn't tied, his ears ached with the cold.

The top of the well was covered by a thick of ice so that the bucket would hardly go through the hole. And the rope was stiff as a board.

Shukhov's hands were frozen, so when he got back to the warders' room with the steaming bucket he shoved them in the water. He felt warmer.

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First Chapter

REVEILLE WAS sounded, as always, at 5 a.m.--a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ. The ringing noise came faintly on and off through the windowpanes covered with ice more than an inch thick, and died away fast. It was cold and the warder didn't feel like going on banging.

The sound stopped and it was pitch black on the other side of the window, just like in the middle of the night when Shukhov had to get up to go to the latrine, only now three yellow beams fell on the window--from two lights on the perimeter and one inside the camp.

He didn't know why but nobody'd come to open up the barracks. And you couldn't hear the orderlies hoisting the latrine tank on the poles to carry it out.


Shukhov never slept through reveille but always got up at once. That gave him about an hour and a half to himself before the morning roll call, a time when anyone who knew what was what in the camps could always scrounge a little something on the side. He could sew someone a cover for his mittens out of a piece of old lining. He could bring one of the big gang bosses his dry felt boots while he was still in his bunk, to save him the trouble of hanging around the pile of boots in his bare feet and trying to find his own. Or he could run around to one of the supply rooms where there might be a little job, sweeping or carrying something. Or he could go to the mess hall to pick up bowls from the tables and take piles of them to the dishwashers. That was another way of getting food, but there were always too many other people with the same idea. And the worst thing was that if there was something left in a bowl you started to lick it. You couldn't help it. And Shukhov could stillhear the words of his first gang boss, Kuzyomin--an old camp hand who'd already been inside for twelve years in 1943. Once, by a fire in a forest clearing, he'd said to a new batch of men just brought in from the front:

"It's the law of the jungle here, fellows. But even here you can live. The first to go is the guy who licks out bowls, puts his faith in the infirmary, or squeals to the screws."

He was dead right about this--though it didn't always work out that way with the fellows who squealed to the screws. They knew how to look after themselves. They got away with it and it was the other guys who suffered.

Shukhov always got up at reveille, but today he didn't. He'd been feeling lousy since the night before--with aches and pains and the shivers, and he just couldn't manage to keep warm that night. In his sleep he'd felt very sick and then again a little better. All the time he dreaded the morning.
But the morning came, as it always did.

Anyway, how could anyone get warm here, what with the ice piled up on the window and a white cobweb of frost running along the whole barracks where the walls joined the ceiling? And a hell of a barracks it was.

Shukhov stayed in bed. He was lying on the top bunk, with his blanket and overcoat over his head and both his feet tucked in the sleeve of his jacket. He couldn't see anything, but he could tell by the sounds what was going on in the barracks and in his own part of it. He could hear the orderlies tramping down the corridor with one of the twenty-gallon latrine tanks. This was supposed to be light work for people on the sick list--but it was no joke carrying the thing out without spilling it!

Then someone from Gang 75 dumped a pile of felt boots from the drying room on the floor. And now someone from his gang did the same (it was also their turn to use the drying room today). The gang boss and his assistant quickly put on their boots, and their bunk creaked. The assistant gang boss would now go and get the bread rations. And then the boss would take off for the Production Planning Section (PPS) at HQ.

But, Shukhov remembered, this wasn't just the same old daily visit to the PPS clerks. Today was the big day for them. They'd heard a lot of talk of switching their gang--104--from putting up workshops to a new job, building a new "Socialist Community Development." But so far it was nothing more than bare fields covered with snowdrifts, and before anything could be done there, holes had to be dug, posts put in, and barbed wire put up--by the prisoners for the prisoners, so they couldn't get out. And then they could start building.

You could bet your life that for a month there'd be no place where you could get warm--not even a hole in the ground. And you couldn't make a fire--what could you use for fuel? So your only hope was to work like hell.

The gang boss was worried and was going to try to fix things, try to palm the job off on some other gang, one that was a little slower on the uptake. Of course you couldn't go empty-handed. It would take a pound of fatback for the chief clerk. Or even two.

Maybe Shukhov would try to get himself on the sick list so he could have a day off. There was no harm in trying. His whole body was one big ache.

Then he wondered--which warder was on duty today?

He remembered that it was Big Ivan, a tall, scrawny sergeant with black eyes. The first time you saw him he scared the pants off you, but when you got to know him he was the easiest of all the duty warders--wouldn't put you in the can or drag you off to the disciplinary officer. So Shukhov could stay put till it was time for Barracks 9 to go to the mess hall.


The bunk rocked and shook as two men got up together--on the top Shukhov's neighbor, the Baptist Alyoshka, and down below Buynovsky, who'd been a captain in the navy.

When they'd carried out the two latrine tanks, the orderlies started quarreling about who'd go to get the hot water. They went on and on like two old women. The electric welder from Gang 20 barked at them:

"Hey, you old bastards!" And he threw a boot at them. "I'll make you shut up."

The boot thudded against a post. The orderlies shut up.

The assistant boss of the gang next to them grumbled in a low voice:

"Vasili Fyodorovich! The bastards pulled a fast one on me in the supply room. We always get four two-pound loaves, but today we only got three. Someone'll have to get the short end."

He spoke quietly, but of course the whole gang heard him and they all held their breath. Who was going to be shortchanged on rations this evening?

Shukhov stayed where he was, on the hard-packed sawdust of his mattress. If only it was one thing or another--either a high fever or an end to the pain. But this way he didn't know where he was.

While the Baptist was whispering his prayers, the Captain came back from the latrine and said to no one in particular, but sort of gloating:

"Brace yourselves, men! It's at least twenty below."

Shukhov made up his mind to go to the infirmary.

And then some strong hand stripped his jacket and blanket off him. Shukhov jerked his quilted overcoat off his face and raised himself up a bit. Below him, his head level with the top of the bunk, stood the Thin Tartar.

So this bastard had come on duty and sneaked up on them.

"S-854!" the Tartar read from the white patch on the back of the black coat. "Three days in the can with work as usual."

The minute they heard his funny muffled voice everyone in the entire barracks--which was pretty dark (not all the lights were on) and where two hundred men slept in fifty bug-ridden bunks--came to life all of a sudden. Those who hadn't yet gotten up began to dress in a hurry.

"But what for, Comrade Warder?" Shukhov asked, and he made his voice sound more pitiful than he really felt.

The can was only half as bad if you were given normal work. You got hot food and there was no time to brood. Not being let out to work--that was real punishment.

"Why weren't you up yet? Let's go to the Commandant's office," the Tartar drawled--he and

Shukhov and everyone else knew what he was getting the can for.

There was a blank look on the Tartar's hairless, crumpled face. He turned around and looked for somebody else to pick on, but everyone--whether in the dark or under a light, whether on a bottom bunk or a top one--was shoving his legs into the black, padded trousers with numbers on the left knee. Or they were already dressed and were wrapping themselves up and hurrying for the door to wait outside till the Tartar left.

If Shukhov had been sent to the can for something he deserved he wouldn't have been so upset. What made him mad was that he was always one of the first to get up. But there wasn't a chance of getting out of it with the Tartar. So he went on asking to be let off just for the hell of it, but meantime pulled on his padded trousers (they too had a worn, dirty piece of cloth sewed above the left knee, with the number S-854 painted on it in black and already faded), put on his jacket (this had two numbers, one on the chest and one on the back), took his boots from the pile on the floor, put on his cap (with the same number in front), and went out after the Tartar.

The whole Gang 104 saw Shukhov being taken off, but no one said a word. It wouldn't help, and what could you say? The gang boss might have stood up for him, but he'd left already. And Shukhov himself said nothing to anyone. He didn't want to aggravate the Tartar. They'd keep his breakfast for him and didn't have to be told.

The two of them went out.


It was freezing cold, with a fog that caught your breath. Two large searchlights were crisscrossing over the compound from the watchtowers at the far corners. The lights on the perimeter and the lights inside the camp were on full force. There were so many of them that they blotted out the stars.

With their felt boots crunching on the snow, prisoners were rushing past on their business--to the latrines, to the supply rooms, to the package room, or to the kitchen to get their groats cooked. Their shoulders were hunched and their coats buttoned up, and they all felt cold, not so much because of the freezing weather as because they knew they'd have to be out in it all day. But the Tartar in his old overcoat with shabby blue tabs walked steadily on and the cold didn't seem to bother him at all.

They went past the high wooden fence around the punishment block (the stone prison inside the camp), past the barbed-wire fence that guarded the bakery from the prisoners, past the corner of the HQ where a length of frost-covered rail was fastened to a post with heavy wire, and past another post where--in a sheltered spot to keep the readings from being too low--the thermometer hung, caked over with ice. Shukhov gave a hopeful sidelong glance at the milk-white tube. If it went down to forty-two below zero they weren't supposed to be marched out to work. But today the thermometer wasn't pushing forty or anything like it.

They went into HQ--straight into the warders' room. There it turned out--as Shukhov had already had a hunch on the way--that they never meant to put him in the can but simply that the floor in the warders' room needed scrubbing. Sure enough, the Tartar now told Shukhov that he was letting him off and ordered him to mop the floor.

Mopping the floor in the warders' room was the job of a special prisoner--the HQ orderly, who never worked outside the camp. But a long time ago he'd set himself up in HQ and now had a free run of the rooms where the Major, the disciplinary officer, and the security chief worked. He waited on them all the time and sometimes got to hear things even the warders didn't know. And for some time he'd figured that to scrub floors for ordinary warders was a little beneath him. They called for him once or twice, then got wise and began pulling in ordinary prisoners to do the job.

The stove in the warders' room was blazing away. A couple of warders who'd undressed down to their dirty shirts were playing checkers, and a third who'd left on his belted sheepskin coat and felt boots was sleeping on a narrow bench. There was a bucket and rag in the corner.

Shukhov was real pleased and thanked the Tartar for letting him off:

"Thank you, Comrade Warder. I'll never get up late again."

The rule here was simple--finish your job and get out. Now that Shukhov had been given some work, his pains seemed to have stopped. He took the bucket and went to the well without his mittens, which he'd forgotten and left under his pillow in the rush.

The gang bosses reporting at the PPS had formed a small group near the post, and one of the younger ones, who was once a Hero of the Soviet Union, climbed up and wiped the thermometer.

The others were shouting up to him: "Don't breathe on it or it'll go up."

"Go up . . . the hell it will . . . it won't make a fucking bit of difference anyway."

Tyurin--the boss of Shukhov's work gang--was not there. Shukhov put down the bucket and dug his hands into his sleeves. He wanted to see what was going on.

The fellow up the post said in a hoarse voice: "Seventeen and a half below--shit!"
And after another look just to make sure, he jumped down.

"Anyway, it's always wrong--it's a damned liar," someone said. "They'd never put in one that works here."

The gang bosses scattered. Shukhov ran to the well. Under the flaps of his cap, which he'd lowered but hadn't tied, his ears ached with the cold.

The top of the well was covered by a thick of ice so that the bucket would hardly go through the hole. And the rope was stiff as a board.

Shukhov's hands were frozen, so when he got back to the warders' room with the steaming bucket he shoved them in the water. He felt warmer.
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent story, a must read

    Although at first a bit skeptical about having been told to read this book, I was soon rather intrigued. I thought to myself, "what could possibly be interesting about the life of some guy in a Russian prison camp?" Apparently, a great many things. I started the book having very little knowledge on this subject and as I read, I found myself learning of some of the truly terrible crimes that were committed there. What I had discovered was very shocking. Ivan Denisovich goes through a day as a wrongly prosecuted man in a communist prison camp, incarcerated for being an ex-prisoner of war who was believed to be a spy for the Germans. The revolting way in which these men were treated allowed me to grow closer to Ivan Denisovich Shukhov as he struggled to survive just one day of his ten year sentence. Solzhenitsyn does an excellent job of conveying what happened in such a manner that the characters almost become real while at the same time he tells you to your face that it is impossible to completely understand how they felt in those camps. Reading Solzhenitsyn's account of a day in a prison camp from the perspective of Ivan Denisovich is very informative and makes you really feel for the characters. It is based entirely on the true occurrences in Russia during a period of communism under the rule of Stalin. As it was one of the first events on the subject allowed to be published at all in Russia, it was an eye-opening report of what was actually happening. I, for one, knew that it was supposed to be bad in those prison camps, but I never knew how bad. Solzhenitsyn's credibility comes from the fact that he actually had to witness most of what took place in Russia at the time. His ability to capture what was happening so accurately is what I think made his work so successful. This story is realistic and serious based on real events. I knew when I started this book that it was not my cup of tea. My usual preference is science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or anything in that general area. One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich had a way of capturing my attention in a different way that was almost unfamiliar to me. It appealed to my sense of sympathy for others and it gave a new outlook on the freedom of life that can sometimes be taken for granted. All things considered, One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich was an excellent read. I would recommend it for anyone to read at least once at some point in their life. It brings into perspective some of the things that happened in the past under communist rule and allows us to better understand why we fight it now. After reading this book, I have somewhat of a new found appreciation for some of the simple things in life. This is definitely a book worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Reality of Marxism/Socialism

    Want to know what it would be like to live in the Marxist/Socialistic society? Read this book and Solzhenitsyn's other books. It's not a pretty sight. What these people went though is heartbreaking.

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  • Posted October 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Novel on Little Discussed Subject

    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a glimpse into the 24 hour day of a Russian Hard Labor Camp prisoner. Denisovich is sentenced to 25 year ("the only sentence ever given any more") for being fortunate enough to escape a German POW camp during WWII. After all if he "escaped" surely it is because he agreed to be a spy. He joins others both adult and children for crimes such as being a Baptist, being a native of another country, or feeding rebels. To say life is diffificult is oversimplifying. To say there is "life" is oversimplifying. Prisoners spend their day simply trying to survive by constantly looking for food, trying to stay warm, trying to stay out of the "hole", and surviving attacks from other prisoners. At the end of the day Denisovich can recount all the reasons why the day was "almost a happy one"

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  • Posted August 30, 2009

    Book Review of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

    I did not enjoy reading this book. It is the story of a day in the life of a prisoner at a Soviet Labor Camp under Stalin's rule in 1951. The main character, Ivan Denisovich, finds ways to cope with his horrible living conditions. He has to survive the bitter cold weather, robbed of his personal rights and identity. Nevertheless, Ivan ties to make the best out of his terrible circumstances.

    The author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was a prisoner in a Soviet concentration camp similar to the main character of this novel. I believe that this story is a snap shot of his personal experience. I see this book as a realistic journal entry that Alexander Solzhenitsyn could have written one evening while living in the labor camp.

    I would not recommend this book to high school students. I found it boring to read about the minute to minute details of Ivan's day. I do understand that the point of the novel is to make the reader comprehend the dullness and sorrow of life in a Soviet labor camp. However, I prefer reading more engaging stories that are not distressing. I kept hoping that the story would make a turn and become more upbeat. Even though there are some small moments of joy in this story, the underlying recurring theme is depressing.

    People often complain how horrible their day has been. I know personally that I have come home saying that I have had the worst day ever. Reading this book does make me realize that my worst day really is a good day, especially compared to Ivan's days in the labor camp. Reading this story over my summer vacation is not something I would recommend to potential readers. I would encourage people who are planning to visit Russia to read this novel to give them an background history of what life was like under Stalin's rule.

    The narrator is able to find joy in unexpected places. I know this should leave the reader with hope, however, it does not work for me. Each time I paused from my reading I felt distressed. Furthermore, I did not look forward to picking up the book again, but I felt the need to go outside into the sunshine and clear my mind. I understand why the author wrote this novel, however, I could not sincerely recommend it to others.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2009

    Confusing and Uninteresting

    The title of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" speaks for itself as the book takes place over a single day in the life of a labor camp prisoner Ivan Denisovich. I found this book to be a confusing and uninteresting read. The book was a slow and boring read due to the fact that nothing really interesting happened and the plot had no real purpose other than to tell the story of the day. I think that there were way too many details, and even if Alexander Solzhenitsyn had removed some of the extensive details the plot would not have changed. The names throughout the book were very confusing to pick up on or remember, and several times I needed to go back to where they were first introduced to see who they were. Also events throughout the story were very hard to remember because there are so many and I would constantly have to return to different parts of the book. On the other hand, even with many of these turnoffs it was still interesting to see what the day in the life of a labor camp prisoner is. I do not believe that this book appeals to students because they are looking for books with interesting plots and exciting twists. My first impression of this book was mixed due to the fact I was unsure if it would just be the details of Ivan's day or would have an interesting plot. While reading I occasionally got bored and put down the book because I could no longer stand reading all the details and trying to determine their purposes. This book is also very depressing because all it focuses on is the struggles of Ivan Denisovich's life throughout his day in a labor camp. I do believe that Alexander Solzhenitsyn's book gives a true description of the life of labor camp prisoners and the struggles they encounter. I would not recommend this book to others because unless a person is looking to read a book for its historical context or is interested in the Soviet Union and its labor camps this book is not very interesting. Though I do not necessarily like the book I am grateful for what I have and realize what struggles other people like Ivan go through each and every day. Overall I would not consider this to be a very good book because it becomes boring and gets very confusing as you read, unless you are interested in history or labor camps and the Soviet Union.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2009

    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich review.

    The novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich follows the main protagonist throughout one day in his life. Ivan, known as Shukhov by his fellow inmates, is a prisoner in a Soviet work camp. Shukhov was placed in this camp with false charges; he was a Soviet solider who was captured by Germans, and upon escaping the Soviet government declared him a spy and sentenced him to 10 years of hard labor.
    This story deals with several themes showing the true nature of life in Soviet Russia, and the true nature of human cruelty. In the novel the prisoners are required to do endless hours of labor in below zero weather, in addition to that the prisoner's receive minimal amounts of food leaving them to revolve their lives around finding basic needs of survival. For example, most of the time in the story Shukhov is plotting up schemes to get a second portion.
    Another theme to this story is one of putting spiritual needs above physical needs. Near the end of the novel Ivan is talking to a religious character named Alyoshka, Ivan and Alyoshka debate about religion, but eventually Ivan feels compelled to give Alyoshka a portion of the food. This shows that Ivan fulfilled his spiritual by giving up food that he could have eaten at a later time. Ivan feels happy by doing an act of kindness for another. This act of kindness also shows that the Soviet camp has not yet been able to break Shukhovs' humanity.
    The Soviet work camp tries to break not only the inmate's humanity, but also their uniqueness. The Soviet foremen try to make the prisoners into a machine of work. Shukhov retains his humanity and uniqueness by doing several things. For one he keeps a spoon in his boot which sets him apart from the others. This shows that he is still thinking and planning and that he has not yet been broken. Ivan also hides items that he may find useful later, and plots ways to skip working for the day.
    In conclusion this story has many themes that show the inhumane treatment and conditions during the time of the Soviet Union and World War II. The novel also shows that even though the government tried to oppress uniqueness in the work camps prisoners, humanity and individuality was still alive in some of the inmates, and that no matter how much evil someone endures there will always be a little bit of good inside of them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    Worth the Read!

    I found this book an amazing read. The dispassionate voice of the narrator made the book that much more engaging and chilling due to the nature of the labor camps and the effects it had on the individuals who survived.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2008

    A real snoozer

    To be honest, this book was an absolute bore. The title is more realistic than you may think, 'One day in the life...' really is over a 100 pages over the course of ONE day. As you may have learned, it does not make for a very intersting read. It goes into the mundane and monotonous daily activities from eating oatmail and soup to laying bricks on the wall. While I understand the purpose is to refect the realistic and true events of a work camp, are 20+ pages describing mason work really needed? I found myself skipping to other pages just to see if anything somewhat interesting was going to occur, it didnt. However, this may be something that interests you especially if you are interested in horstical reads. This, however, left me bored and unentertained. A real slow and boring read. If I could give a negitive rating I would.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted September 23, 2009

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