Category Archives: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Read Feb 26, 2013

Not many (good) books can be read in one sitting, fewer of them should be read in one sitting.

One Day In The Life is an unusual book for other reasons too. First of all, nothing really happens. Oh, sure, plenty does, yet this is the brilliance of the novel. Just out of sight from our hero is a menace. We feel it in everything that does happen and we know, we just know something terrible is going to happen. It’s inevitable that something will, even should, go horribly wrong. And we know the consequences of a 10 day stint: no recovery and certain death.

More unusual is that without a few dates in the book, we would never really know when this book takes place. We could easily replace the tommy-guns with some other weapon and set the novel in the 18th century. Hell, Egyptian slaves probably didn’t fare much better 3000 years ago except they had to deal with heat and sand instead of cold and snow.

By the end of the novel we are relieved but on edge. I really felt like I had lived in that terrible place and I really did feel cut off from all life. And, of course, that is the point. And to know this was a factual account of life in the Gulags, that it took place during my parents generation, that it’s a microcosm and damnation of the failed Soviet communist experiment makes the whole book a terrifying masterpiece.

Yet it’s not the typical bleak Russian novel. There is hope on every page, in every action. There is beauty in the desolation of the camp, the ice on the window, the moon, even in the job of laying the bricks. There is humanity here and while there might not be a hope for a better and different future, there is hope for a good enough now.

Maybe the best we can do is live for the moment.