A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
By Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Review by Annie (Russian)
Before studying Russian at university, one of the books that I read and thoroughly enjoyed was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I remember being at school and seeing copies of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of reading these somewhat lengthy books on top of all my schoolwork. But I am happy to reassure you that there are plenty of Russian stories, books, and poetry that are shorter, extremely readable, and, very importantly, will also enhance your pre-existing interest in Russian (this certainly happened to me!) or will begin a love for a new area of literature and a subsequent desire to explore its language more, if you are considering picking up Russian at beginner’s level on the ab initio course.
A Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich is definitely an example of not only a captivating story, but also one that is easy to read and get wrapped up in. Through the main character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, we are given an insight into what a day was like for people living in Russia’s harsh prison camps, under Stalin, as the story is set in 1951. From the freezing temperatures to the sawdust mattresses and constant fears of solitary confinement for making a single wrong step, this story is fascinating from a literary perspective, but also from a historical point of view too, whether you have studied Russian history before from this time, or it is a new area to venture into and explore. As well as the historical side, the difficulties that the main character encounters, having been in the camp for over eight years already, throughout this day gives a very personal perspective to the story too.
For me, reading this book was really helpful because, as literature is one of the key components of the course at Oxford (as well as being one of the most fun!), it gave me the chance to do some reading independently. I thought a lot about the concepts and characters in the book, as well as learning from it historically, which was useful as preparation for discussion in an interview setting.
Due to this I would recommend having a read of different Russian stories and poems before you apply. Consider what you think about the story and the characters, for example. I certainly think that A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a good place to start! This book is definitely a page-turner and I would highly recommend reading this, or other stories by Solzhenitsyn, if you are thinking about studying Russian.
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
ISBN-10 : 0141184744
ISBN-13 : 978-0141184746
Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.