A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells the story of a man sentenced to ten years in a Russian work camp for being a spy, even though the accusation is false. However, Ivan is wise enough not to make waves or he might find another ten years put on top of his existing sentence. He also knows that extra years might be slapped on him anyway, because the Soviet would never trust him again and they wouldn’t want him returning to those “bad habits”. When, or if, he was released, he knew he could be sent to an even worse place, so he actually talks himself into not wanting to leave the camp. Going home was something he felt would probably never happen, so it would be better to stay where he was – in a situation he had learned to cope with and live in – than be sent to that worst place.
The story is not filled with suspense and twists and turns. This story holds a reader for another reason – it is character driven. The reader feels for this man (and his companions) and wants to get through the day with them.
The one thing that was very clear to me was how it shows humans adapt to their surroundings and learn how to survive even the most inhuman situations. When a person can find good fortune in receiving a few grams of stale bread and a ladle of something that resembles dish washing water each day, it should make the people of today appreciate what they have.
The book is just one long chapter, with not even a single scene break. At first, I found this irritating, but I got used to it. The writing is a little confusing. One moment the viewpoint was third person and then suddenly it turned to first person. The main character had two names and for a long time I wondered where Ivan Denisovich fit into the story as I didn’t realise I was reading about him because of this other name being used. (I’m not sure if I missed the connection at the beginning of the story or not. I did skim through those early pages again, but found nothing that made it clear. Maybe the confusion came about in the translation.)
Even with the confusion, I found this story interesting, which shows content is important. It made me wonder how well I would cope in a similar situation! I suspect not terribly well.
Anyway, this is a book I would not have picked up without recommendation, which proves – once again – a book cannot be judged by its cover.