Ivan Book Comments

Hello, hope you are enjoying time to read…. Here is some Pageturner comments about One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in case you missed them:

From Di:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Beautifully written – anyone that can describe one day in such minute detail and make every single thing seem so vital is clever indeed. When you realise that the monotony of each day is also full of really important details of survival and many gains and losses, it brings home just how long and unforgiving a stretch in these camps must have been. He talks about twelve year sentences, or even the fact that some men are on their second sentence. This absolutely overpowers the mind as you try to grasp the brutality and hopelessness of the men. He doesn’t complain much and just seems to accept each day, or each small event as it comes and tries to make the most of it. Amazing that a crust of bread can take on such momentous proportions. Add in the freezing weather and it is a wonder that they even survive. He even accepts that he will probably never go home again and doesn’t seem to dwell on it. I thought it was an amazing piece of writing and imagine that it must have been seen as seditious propaganda by the powers that be in Russia. Brave man! It is interesting to read this during our own lockdown period. We don’t really have it too bad at all, do we?At the end of the day, Ivan reflects on the good things that have happened that day. Quite inspiring.Even though it is a novel, you have no doubt that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is writing from first hand experience.

From Paul:

Thank you for selecting this book. I approached it with some trepidation, however it is accessible to read and a fine testament to Solzhenitsyn’s courage. 4/5.

1. Why does Solzhenitsyn call the protagonist by the name “Ivan Denisovich” in the title but by the name “Shukhov” almost everywhere else in the narrative?

Is it his family name or a nickname through which we feel we know him? He is referred to as Ivan Denisovich Shukhov on first page. It may also be a cipher for Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, a Soviet general and Marshal of the Soviet Union, who was reportedly able to speak bluntly to Stalin.

2. In what ways does the camp attempt to eliminate individual identity?

The prisoners numbers were painted on their camp clothing and had to to always be visible. The prisoners were mustered in the morning and evening and repeatedly counted and recounted in their teams of twenty four.

3. In what ways do the inmates attempt to hold on to their individual identities?

I was surprised to read that prisoners were permitted to receive letters and parcels. Other possessions were smuggled and hidden: Alyosha has a secret bible for example.

4. Why did the author choose to write a work of fiction in order to share his Gulag experience with an audience? Why not nonfiction?

It was presumably safer to publish as fiction although there would still have been great fear of reprisal.

5. Why does Solzhenitsyn describe only a single day of Shukhov’s life?

He could have picked any day to show the oppression of gulag life, day after day. This device works because it allows the author to magnify small details of a monotonous day. Food vitally. This is one of the ways Shukov is able to survive: living in the moment, attentive instantaneously to everything around him. He is quick-witted and we see him sum up situations in his mind’s eye. “Shukhov’s fingers worked fast but his mind, planning the next move, worked faster.” (p25.)

6. Why does the author show a day in which the main character feels slightly less miserable than others?

I think it is show the resilience of the human condition. The descriptions of Shukov building the wall in the late afternoon, wanting to finish and do it well, were compelling. I was really with Shukhov in these passages, cheering him on.

7. The narrator asks, “Can a man who’s warm understand one who is freezing?” What are the larger implications of such a question as it applies to our lives? What are some of the possible answers to this question? How do you respond to this question?

I marked this insightful question when reading. We possess an innate capacity for empathy; then there is character. There is humour in places which explores this: “You don’t have to be very bright to push a hand-barrow. So the team-leader gave such work to people who had been in positions of authority.” (p52.)

***

And is a New York Times Review dated 1963 when it was published in America.

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