Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

THE LAUREATE: Robble. WikipediaNobel

WHAT ARE YOU READING?: August 1914, which I guess is the first in a series of historical novels about the beginning of the Soviet Union. It looks pretty interesting, structurally. Apparently it is broken up into “knots,” which deal with a specific time and examine all aspects of it, or something. I don’t even know. I’m about thirty pages in to the eight hundred page copy I have. But, just kidding, I actually read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I really want to read more by Solzhenitsyn later on, though. He looks mad sweet.

REVIEW: So, One Day etc. is a catalog of a day in the life of a Gulag prisoner: the brutal working conditions, the general makeup of the camp population, the way the workers had to stretch what they had in order to do what they had to do, how they were kept in line by the system, etc. Solzhenitsyn was himself a gulag prisoner, and he wrote a massive historical account of the gulag system called Gulag Archipelago. Ivan Denisovich is a brilliant fictional evocation of gulag life. Ivan carries a spoon he cast out of tin in the old gulag he was at. He found the perfect trowel for his hand, so he hides it at the work site instead of turning it in. He finds a little chunk of an old blade, which he plans to use to make slippers for money and favors. He isn’t beaten, sent to the camp prison or on the work gang that got stuck making a building from scratch out in the wastes of Siberia. This is a good day.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IT? Oh hell yes. I want to read all the Solzhenitsyn. This man has written more and better about the faults of the Soviet system than anyone else. Plus, he has a good voice for fiction (I gave up about a hundred pages into August 1914, so I have a bit more experience with him than one might expect.).

WHAT’S NEXT? Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks.

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