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Authors: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

BOOK: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
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by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Translated from the Russian by Ralph Parker

With an Introduction by Marvin L Kalb


English translation copyright 1963 by E.P. Dutton, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., New York, and Victor Gollancz, Ltd., London All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast.

This novel was first published in the Russian language in the U.S.S.R. in the magazine
Novy Mir
, November 1962.


The raw material of life which serves as a basis for A. Solzhenitsyn's story is unusual In Soviet literature. It carries within itself an echo of the painful features In our development related to the cult of personality that has been debunked and repudiated by the Party, features that, although they are not so far away from us in time, nevertheless seem to us to be in the distant past. But the past, no matter what it was like, never becomes a matter of indifference to the present. The assurance of a complete and irrevocable break with everything which beclouds the past lies in a true and courageous comprehension of its full consequences. It was about this that N. S. Khrushchev spoke in his concluding words at the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, words so memorable for all of us: "It is our duty to gain a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the nature of the matters related to the abuse of power. Time will pass and we shall die, we are all mortal, but so long as we work we can and must clear up many points and tell the truth to the Party and to the people. . . . . . This we must do so that such things never happen again."

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
is not a document in the sense of being a memoir, nor is it notes or reminiscences of the author's personal experiences, although only such personal experiences could lend this story its sense of genuine authenticity.

This is a work of art and it is by virtue of the artistic interpretation of this material from life that it is a witness of special value, a document of an art which up to now had seemed to have few possibilities.

The reader will not find in A. Solzhenitsyn's story an all encompassing portrayal of that historic period which is particularly marked by the bitter memory of the year 1937. The content of
One Day
is naturally limited in time and place of action and the horizons of the main hero of the story. But in the writing of A. Solzhenitsyn, who here enters the literary scene for the first time, one day in the life of the camp prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, develops into a picture which gives extraordinary vitality and fidelity to the truthfulness of its human characters. Herein above all lies the uncommon power of the work to impress. The reader can visualize for himself many of the people depicted here in the tragic role of camp inmates in other situations-- at the front or at postwar construction sites. They are the same people who by the will of circumstance have been put to severe physical and moral tests under special and extreme conditions.

In this story there is no deliberate concentration of terrible facts of the cruelty and arbitrariness that were the result of the violation of Soviet legality. The author chose instead to portray only one of the most ordinary of days in the life at camp from reveille to retreat. Nevertheless this "ordinary" day cannot but arouse in the heart of the reader a bitter feeling of pain for the fate of the people who, from the pages of this story, rise up before us so alive and so near. Yet the unquestionable victory of the artist lies in the fact that the bitterness and the pain have nothing In common with a feeling of hopeless depression. On the contrary, the impression left by this work is so extraordinary in its unvarnished and difficult truth that it somehow frees the soul of the burden of things unsaid that needed to be said and at the same time it strengthens one's manly and lofty feelings.

This is a grim story -- still another example of the fact that there are no areas or facts of reality that can be excluded from the sphere of the Soviet artist in our days or that are beyond truthful portrayal. Everything depends on the capabilities of the artist himself.

This story leads to still another simple and instructive conclusion: the truly significant content, the fidelity to the great truths of life, the profound humanity In the approach to the portrayal of even the most difficult subjects cannot but awaken corresponding virtues in the author's writing.
One Day
is alive and distinctive in its very everyday ordinariness and outward unassumingness; it is least of all concerned with itself and is therefore full of an inner dignity and force.

I do not want to anticipate the evaluation of this work -- and so great in size --although for me it is indubitable that it signifies the entrance into our literature of a new, original, and completely mature artist.

It is possible that the author's use -- a quite moderate and advisable use, by the way -- of some words and expressions of the environment in which the hero spends his working day will provoke the objections of fastidious taste. But on the whole
One Day in
the Life of Ivan Denisovich
belongs with those works of literature which, once we have read them, create in us a deep desire to have our feeling of gratitude to the author shared by other readers too.



On November 20, 1962,
Novy Mir
, a monthly Soviet literary magazine, published a short novel by an unknown Russian writer, Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, entitled
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
. It was an immediate literary and political sensation. Within a day all of the ninety-five thousand copies of the November issue of the magazine were snapped up by eager Russians. Within a week Solzhenitsyn skyrocketed to international fame from an obscure job teaching mathematics in Ryazan, a small provincial town not too far from Moscow; and his title character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, was quickly recognized throughout the country as a touching symbol of the suffering which the Russian people had endured under the Stalinist system.

Was there anything special about Ivan that sparked this lightning response? Not really. Ivan was an ordinary Russian caught up in the swirl and chaos of World War II.

Like millions of other Russians, he served uncomplainingly in the Red Army for four years, surviving the bitter cold and hunger of the Western front. In 1945, he and a friend were captured by the Germans. After a few days they managed to escape and returned to Russian lines. Ironically, instead of being decorated for heroism and loyalty, Ivan was arrested by Stalin's supersensitive secret police, who accused him of high treason and charged that he had returned only to spy for the Germans. Confused and helpless, afraid that he would be shot if he tried to explain, Ivan "confessed." He was sentenced to ten years in a Siberian concentration camp. Solzhenitsyn's book describes one day in that camp, one day no better and no worse than any of the other three thousand six hundred and fifty-two days of Ivan's sentence. Ivan's experience was no isolated miscarriage of justice; it was typical of the Stalinist system, under which the labor camps of Siberia were crowded with Russians whose "crime" may have been nothing greater than a careless remark about Stalin to a tattletale neighbor. There is hardly a Russian family today that managed to escape this tragic fate. Almost every one of them had a father or a husband or a son or a cousin who "sat"--the Russian euphemism for serving a term, generally unwarranted, in the camps. That is why
One Day
, the first book about this black page of the Stalin era ever to appear in the Soviet Union, has such a profound Impact on the Russian people. By its brevity and simple power, it forces a Russian reader to remember the days of Stalin.

Many Russians do not want to remember: the victims of Stalinist injustice find it too painful; and the accomplices find it too shattering--especially now, after several years of relative normalcy. But there are others--Khrushchev among them--who want Russia to remember. Although Solzhenitsyn is undoubtedly a writer with bold views, it is important to note that his novel was published at this time because it suited Khrushchev's domestic policy. Its unstated but obvious message--the devastating impact of Stalinism on ordinary Russians--fits neatly into the pattern of Khrushchev's continuing attack against Stalin's abuses.

Solzhenitsyn finished his book about eighteen months ago. The manuscript was sent to several magazines and was rejected by all of them; apparently the editors found its theme too explosive to handle on their own authority. At last, the manuscript fell into the hands of the "liberal wing" of the Soviet literary world, represented by such writers as, among others, Alexander Tvardovsky, editor of
Novy Mir

They felt strongly that
One Day
should be published, but they too were unable to make such a decision on their own. They turned to the Central Committee of the Cornmunist Party for a decision. The members of the Central Committee debated the merits of publication; they were sharply divided. The final decision, as usual, was made by Premier Khrushchev, who is said to have read the book and personally approved its uncensored publication.. In a still unpublished speech before a major Central Committee meeting which took place the week the book came out, Khrushchev revealed his own role in the decision to publish it. An additional five thousand copies were made available to the top Communists attending the meeting.

At the same time, government publications launched a coordinated campaign to give the novel maximum publicity:
Soviet Literature
translated it into English;
, a weekly newspaper for foreign consumption, was authorized to run a serialized version; and
and other non-literary newspapers published highly favorable reviews of the book.

Even without this official encouragement, the book would have been a sensation in Russia--not only because of its sensitive subject but also because of its literary merit.

One Day
represents no literary innovation. Its form and style are conventional, following the nineteenth-century Russian tradition of the "social protest" novel. But it tells a story about little people trapped in a merciless political machine in a way that lifts it high above the level of the average Soviet "man-loves-tractor" school of literature.

Solzhenitsyn's language is direct and powerful, reminding some Russian critics of the young Dostoevsky, who, in his
Notes from Underground
, managed to convey a unique impression of nineteenth-century Russia through the eyes and thoughts of a man holed up in a basement. Using this same effective literary device--seeing and understanding the world through the eyes and mind of the leading character--Solzhenitsyn presents an unadorned and starkly disturbing picture of life in a Russian concentration camp. He traces one day in Ivan's life, from reveille to lights-out. He never intrudes in Ivan's story, and the reader quickly identifies with Ivan the man and Ivan the prisoner.

One chills to the 17°-below-zero cold of Siberia. One sympathizes with the poor peasant who wants to go home but is afraid even to think about it. One grasps the meaning of Ivan's sad, wise question: "How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold?" One understands why Ivan has become indifferent, and cannot even write a letter home. "Writing now was like dropping stones in some deep, bottomless pool. They drop; they sink--but there is no answer." One even understands why Ivan signed a confession saying be had returned to Russian lines "to carry out a mission for German intelligence." And one begins to comprehend the simple, futile, and monotonous horror of the labor-camp system as one reads the last few lines of the book:

"Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He'd had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn't put him in the cells; they hadn't sent his squad to the settlement; he'd swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; he'd built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he'd smuggled a bit of hacksaw blade through; he'd earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he'd bought that tobacco. And he hadn't fallen ill. He'd got over it.

"A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.

"There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.

"Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days.

"The three extra days were for leap years."

Solzhenitsyn conveys the power and drama of prison life in a style marked by understatement. His economy of words is not a Slavic quality. Yet Solzhenitsyn is a Slav.

He has been reluctant to give interviews to local or foreign reporters, so most of the available information about his life comes from an officially sanctioned one-page biography, released by Tass, the official Soviet news agency, after numerous requests for information.

BOOK: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
10.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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