Browsing the shelves of the library recently, looking for some new books to count towards the Borrowed Book challenge, I spotted this book and remember a friend raving about it back when we were doing English Literature at school. It's one of those modern classics that I thought it was about time I read.
The book is set in the 1950s and tells the story of a day in the life of the title character, who has been sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labour camp, or gulag. When the book was first published in the 1960s the author self-censored parts in order to ensure publication, but this version includes more details that would have been unwelcome to the ruling class at the time.
I found the narrative style quite unusual, as it presents the thoughts and opinions of Ivan as if in the first person, yet it often makes observations about him as if the narrator is some omniscient being. Unlike other Russian literature I have read in the past this was not a difficult read, although there were a few terms I wasn't familiar with. I devoured the hundred and fifty or so pages in a matter of hours. I thought the interaction between the various characters was fascinating, and found myself both reviled by yet in sympathy with those in the camp who had learned to play the system in order to survive.
While it presents a bleak picture of life in a labour camp and provided fantastic descriptions that almost made me shiver along with Ivan and his fellow internees I put the book down feeling remarkably positive. This was undoubtedly because despite all the hardships he faces, that would be unbearable to me, everything it relative and for Ivan the day could have been far worse.
I picked up this book knowing a little about the gulags, as I imagine many people would, and it served to confirm and expand upon what I already knew but put a human face to the suffering so many faced. Rather than appearing trivial all the small details of his daily existence really enhanced the book. For anyone with an interest in modern history I would suggest this is a very good read.
Format: Paperback, borrowed from the library
My Rating: 4*