Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died on August 3, 2008. These I've read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962): Fictionalized prison memoir provides an examination of life in a Stalinist labor camp after WWII. Well worth reading for unexpected points like work satisfaction, class distinctions, and admiration of the Latvians for being stand-up guys (I lived in Riga 1994-97 so I twig on things Latvian).

The First Circle (1968): People with special technical skills were incarcerated in special labor camps in the USSR of the 1950s. This compelling novel is about people in impossible circumstances doing what they can to preserve their own souls and dignity. As one of the great novels of the 20th century it should be approached with respect but not trepidation. It’s a real page turner, the novel that convinced me how great a story-teller AS was.

The Cancer Ward (1968): Set in a cancer ward in Tashkent, it is about politics, of course, but it is also an illness memoir, from the anxiety of diagnosis to iatrogenic problems. Extremely readable, an amazing novel.

August 1914 (1971): Long stretches are rather tedious so I can recommend only to serious students of WWI. The novel centers on the disastrous loss in the Battle of Tannenberg at the time mentioned in the title.


  1. I read the Cancer Ward many years ago and I agree, it was really amazing. I didn't expect a "Russian Novel" much less a book about cancer, to be so page turning. . I have heard great things about “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. I have a good friend whose parents are Latvian, so I can also recommend it to him.
    I later tried to read The Gulag Archipelago and found it unbelievably turgid and dull. So I didn’t finish it. Maybe Solzhenitsyn non-fiction is to be avoided!

  2. Thanks for the comment. I too tried Gulag, found it very hard going, and put it down after about 100 pages.

  3. Add me to the club. I adore Cancer Ward, as hard to read as it was, specially the first pages. Boom. You are there, surrounded by cancer, at a, yes, cancer ward, ha ha ha. I did not think I'd like this long book that much either. I realized too that I was advancing, until I came to half way there, when I had to keep reading, more, more... I've never tried any other of his titles. I love the Russians, but I have to be in the mood for the marathon.