02 March 2010

Book Review: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I know. I usually read contemporary literature, as I am currently in my contemporary literature phase, but I figured I mix and match things a little bit. So, as an initial attempt in revisiting the classical literature again, I picked this book up for a reading.

So why did I pick up this book? Well, back in high school, I remember that in my senior year, my English teacher was reading this book. I later learned that this book was banned in the Soviet Union, and censored, so the desire to read it became stronger. I finally decided to pick it up last week.

So what is this book about? It is exactly what the title says. It is a narrative about one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. Shukhov is a political prisoner who is stationed in a gulag somewhere in Siberia. The whole book is a narrative about his daily activities, from the time they wake up, to the time they sleep. And after reading it, no wonder the Soviet government would want to censor it. Because the narrative isn't a pretty one.

While reading the book, I learned about construction, I also learned about further evidence on why communism fails, and I also learned about further evidence on the theory that man is inherently selfish. The scenario that Solzhenitsyn paints here is one in which man is indeed wolf to another man, where a prisoner takes advantage of another prisoner, and the guards take advantage of the prisoners. It is indeed every man for himself in the gulag.

It reminded me of when I was in undergrad, when I was taking a required course by virtue of the Constitution: Philippine Institutions 100. This course was required of every student regardless of major, and it was entitled "The Life and Works of Jose Rizal" who is none other than the Philippine national hero. However, most professors who teach this has a different agenda of their own, and the professor who I took the class from was a communist. He basically forgot about Rizal and just tried indoctrinating us with the beauty of communism.

I didn't buy it. I wrote as a final paper how communism fails to bring forth the good for everyone, how mankind's predisposition to be selfish defeats the ideals of Marx and Lenin. I cited how Romanians back then survived with just one lightbulb, while the people in the party lavished in luxury goods because they were all smooching from the masses. Communism failed, and I cannot believe that the professor still held on to that ideal. I got an A-.

Anyway, this book is another reminder that that form of government will not be the right one. Humans are too selfish to be communist. I am glad that I read this book, even though it was a decade late. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(Library Art, from my Library of Congress Series)


  1. One note: Although the Soviet government later censored Solzhenitsyn heavily, one remarkable aspect of "One Day..." is that it was published in the Soviet Union with the specific approval of the Premier at the time, Nikita Khrushchev.

  2. stpetric,

    Welcome to my blog, and thank you for pointing out that detail. Indeed it is one must-read book given its historical significance.

  3. I read that book ages ago...I recommend it.