Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

I read this novel some years ago and so I do not remember many details. I do remember that he compares one of his fellow inmates to a jackal. And I do remember that life in a Russian slave labour camp crushed everything that is human, dignified and good in most (but not all)inmates, so that after a time they are no better than animals. Camp life certainly brought out the best in Solzhenitsyn, so much so that history will remember him as one of the most fearless men who ever lived.

I also remember that one of the key points Solzhenitsyn makes in this unforgettable novel is that we really come face to face with our true selves when placed in adverse situations.

Solzhenitsyn died on Sunday at the age of 89, and how much did he exerience in that time! I came across an article that reflects on Solzhenitsyn's life and work.

A twice-decorated artillery captain in the Second World War, Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned in 1945 when government spies intercepted a private letter in which he complained to a friend about Stalin's policies.

For this crime he served eight years in prison, then three more years of "internal exile" in Kazakhstan, where he taught high school mathematics and physics.

Solzhenitsyn, 1970 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature wrote about one 'ordinary' day out of the time he spent in a slave labour camp in the novel "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich". Ordinary indeed! It is a horror story of suffering and degradation. But it is a celebration of the indomitable will that some of us possess. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich was one of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's first lashes against communism.

The rest of the article quoted above details how Alecksandr Solzhenitsyn was able to tell the real reason why some men who discovered fish thousands of years old, frozen in an underwater source, ate some of the fish right away!

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