Book Review Essay

Submitted By CTUSTIN
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Silencing the Broken: A Book Review of One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

Carlee Tustin
Dr. Nicholas Virtue
Totalitarianism 1403E
Section 570
February 9, 2015

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a fictitious novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which described Ivan Denisovich’s day in a Soviet Camp. Solzhenitsyn used the novel to describe how the camp system and the Soviet Union operated during the communist revolution. This fictitious novel can be considered political because of its depictions rather than expressing opinions. Many of the situations that people and the Soviet state experienced was not allowed to be published prior to this novel. The author discusses disruptions within communist’s conceptions of labour and its landmark into Soviet history. Much of the Soviet Union was aware that the labour camps existed, because of their family members whom been sent there, yet the camps themselves have never been documented in Soviet literature. Only after Stalin’s death was such publication allowed to occur, and the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel was a major milestone that initiated a public government admission of Stalin’s errors.

Solzhenitsyn describes only a single day of Shukhov or Ivan Denisovich’s life in the novel. This emphasizes the idea that the main character Shukhov’s days literally belonged to the Soviet government rather than to the Shukhov himself. A day for Ivan Denisovich is only part of his sentence whereas for a free citizen it can be just considered a unit of time within a lifetime, thus showing a powerful political significance. His day does not have individual ideas and desires, but is rather strictly planned by the high Soviet powers. Focusing on a single day as a political prisoner that is regulated by the government expresses the lifeless and tedium life of a labour camp inmate. The author strictly focuses on each event that corresponds with Ivan Denisovich and how he lives his life within the camp walls. Showing aspects of a single mindset with only thoughts of the present and immediate concerns, none for the future. As Ivan Denisovich was waking up “he couldn’t see anything but he knew that from the sounds just what was going on in the hut and in his own gang’s corner (9).” Days in the camp were very similar and were just a never-ending day in which he was capable of knowing what was happening around him. Although Shukhov on one specific day may receive an extra ration of bread, the ration will have no impact on his ration the next day. Such limitation on a life compels Ivan Denisovich to pay attention to immediate reality and forget worrying about what the future holds.

In the novel, Buynosky is a prisoner known as “the captain” for his former military rank, however he is no more privileged than Denisovich. Being such a well-educated man, he sheepishly told Shukhov that “it’s been decreed that the sun is highest at one o’clock” in which Shukhov replied with “who decreed that?” and in return Buynosky said “The Soviet Union. (p. 54).” Buynovsky implies that the Soviet state’s willingness to decree truths to the extreme, and that it perceives itself as the all-powerful. The Soviet Union firmly believes that it can not only delegate the lives of its citizens but also defy the laws of nature. Buynosky’s joke also demonstrated the difference in intelligence between the two men. Buynosky has presented himself as having sophisticating wit, while Shukhov is naïve and accepts such possibility of such absurdity to exist. Such difference in intelligence between the inmates successfully compares the various social