Ivan Denisovich Shukov survives one more day in his 10 years sentence in the Gulag. Gulag prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukov must survive one more day so he can survive the next and the next and the next.
Ivan Denisovich Shukov always gets up with reveille, but today he does not as he is feeling ill, aching and feverish. He is sent to the commandant's office for this infraction but is let off with scrubbing the guard room floor before breakfast. Only then does he have the time to go to sick-bay where he is told his temperature is not quite high enough to exempt him from work. He can choose to stay back and see the doctor but if he is judged fit then he'll be put in lock-up, he's better off working.
Led by squad leader Tiurin, who has been there 19 years, Shukov heads off to work with the rest of the 104th in the blistering cold, managing to beg the butt end of a cigarette on his way. The prisoners are also strip searched by the brutal Volkovoi but he finds nothing. At the construction site Shukov retrieves the trowel he has illegally stashed and gets to work.
Shukov has been in the camp for 8 years of a ten year sentence but there is no guarantee he'll be released at the end. He is a political prisoner, sentenced for High Treason, because he'd surrendered to the Germans rather than die. He is entitled to 2 letters per year from his wife. He has long since stopped planning for his release but lives day by day.
At lunch Shukov manages to steal two extra bowls of porridge for the 104th, one of which he gets, the other he gives to Tsezar, a higher class inmate who works in the offices and gets food parcels in which Shukov hopes to share. Shukov also finds a bit of broken hacksaw which he hides in his jacket, he can make it into a knife for cobbling.
Back at work Shukov and Kilgas get on with bricklaying, working hard, taking pride in what they do. By the time they march back Shukov is starting to feel better, able to shrug off his fever without going to the doctor's again. The 104th beat another team back and so will be first in for food, but they are searched at the gates and Shukov suddenly remembers the hacksaw blade! He can ditch it or take the risk and hide it. He takes the risk as the blade will help him earn extra food in future. It is a nail-biting moment but the guard does not find the blade.
Shukov keeps Tsezar's place in the queue outside the parcel office and is rewarded with Tsezar's dinner of cabbage soup. Two lunches and two dinners is a remarkable day indeed and he also buys some good tobacco from another inmate and get biscuits and sausage from Tsezar after hiding something for him. Shukov offers up a prayer of thanks before sleeping; another day done.
Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent 8 years in the Gulag for making derogatory comments about Stalin, giving him the inside view essential for his book. There is little story in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, just a catalogue of events in a single day that turns out to be a good day. It is a story of mundane survival in horrifying circumstances and a literary masterpiece.
Best part of story, including ending:
This book is an extraordinary piece of writing that makes a crust of bread seem more important than saving the world in lesser books.
Best scene in story:
The scene in which Shukov is searched by guards with a hacksaw blade hidden in his mitten is incredibly tense.
Opinion about the main character:
Shukov is a survivor, a man who accepts his fate and works through it.
This classic raised many eyebrows when it was first published in 1963. Hailed as
one of the most significant literary works coming out of Soviet Russia at the time, this
Nobel Prize-winning author's accounting of a Stalinist work camp made its mark
world-wide. The book, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is not only graphic with details about
life in the labor camps, but brutal in its presentation and the Soviet state was bent upon
dehumanizing all its inhabitants. Based, of course, upon the author's personal experiences,
it seems captures the despair, the suffering, the hopelessness of being an inmate in such a
camp. This is not an easy book to read, especially for Westerners who rarely know first
hand such suffering. Still, in the almost 30 years since it was first published, the novel is
This report prepared by Bill Hobbs