Review of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (writer).
Read in 2022.
Read in Hans Björkegren’s 1970 translation to Swedish.
A Russian machine gunner captured by the Germans in WW2 has served eight years of his sentence back in Russia, and isn’t free yet. He was accused of having become a spy along with everyone else who was taken as a prisoner of war, but he is innocent. A relatively kind and earnest man with some remaining Christian faith, he focuses on the tiny comforts of the Gulag on one cold but “almost happy” winter day.
In the same way that Fyodor Dostoevsky’s imprisonment coloured the writing of his masterpieces, Solzhenitsyn also had first-hand experience. He was a Gulag prisoner between 1945 and 1953, for having insulted Stalin. With the tools of Dostoyevsky, One Day in the Life calmly indicted Soviet corruption, laying bare the deep cynicism of that society in a way that would continue to echo while the author was denounced in 1969, deported in 1974, and re-embraced by later anti-Stalinist administrators, all the way until the Soviet Union was finally destroyed.