Books That Haunt: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series.

Human reactions to adverse situations are varied. There are some who whine and pitch frenzied fits for as long as they can; some who become enshrouded in bitterness and allow that to motivate them; there are others who simply give up. There are others, however, who learn to survive the best way they can, reorganizing their priorities and putting the great efforts and energies that would ordinarily go into the large-scale things in life into the small and mundane.

It is in this latter category that we find Shukov, the protagonist in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Ivan Denisovich Shukov is a political prisoner in the Soviet Gulag, and this short novel, as it implies, is about one day in his life. In terms of plot twists, landmark events, or action, the book is lacking. In Shukov’s world, the mundane becomes the significant. When a spoon is your most valuable posession, keeping a piece of bread hidden is a big deal.

Though the overall setting is bleak, there are many characters who exhibit much color and depth. One of my favorites (for obvious reasons) is the Baptist, Alyosha, who exhibits a surreal happiness amidst the toils of the camp.

As I said, the book is short, so I won’t make this mini-review too lengthy. I will note that Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this book in 1970 after its publication in the West. His research for the book? He spent years in labor camps, prisons and exile for criticizing Stalin in a letter.