Monday, October 08, 2012

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich ended up being my read for Banned Books Week.  Following this short novel's publication in the early 1960s, it was prohibited reading in the Soviet Union because Alexander Solzhenitsyn got a little too real about conditions in the work camps and the reasons why prisoners ended up there to suit those in control.

I expected more episodes of overt cruelty, but One Day In The Life... instead relates how the camp and its guards and officers systematically grind the prisoners down with horrible work conditions, not enough food, threats of solitary confinement, constant strip searches and constant vigilance to make sure that prisoners have just barely enough and no more.

The book also shows how Ivan Denisovich, who has served 8 years of his 10-year sentence, as well as the other men are always on the lookout for even the most miniscule of advantages that make their days happy and their lives bearable.  For example, if the camp thermometer goes to 42 below zero, they don't have to work outside.  Also, although Ivan Denisovich has forbidden his wife to send him any care packages, he makes a note of the prisoners who receive such packages and lets them know, because they will generally repay him with a small sample of their windfall.

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich was made into a movie in 1970, which is available in 10 parts on Youtube.  British actor Tom Courtenay plays the title character.  I had pictured Ivan D. as being a little more on the rugged side, but the setting (filmed in northern Norway) and the cinematography (by Sven Nykvist) feel so accurate -- desperately forbidding and bleak.


Jeane said...

Have you changed your blog title?

I read this a while ago- several times, in fact. It's one book that rather stuck with me. I think because it tells one day in such detail, showing the minutiae of how the men survived the dismal conditions- both mentally as well as physically- that it made more of an impression on me than longer works which describe similar situations.

Bybee said...

Yes, I changed it. Too much nasty spam because of one word in the previous title.

Ryan said...

I love this book. Great choice. I had forgotten about the -42 thing. China has a similar law in which workers who work outdoors do not have to work if the thermometer goes over 40 degrees. However, the thermometers are all government regulated and there hasn't been a 40 degree day in years.