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Alexander Solsjenitsyn – En dag i Ivan Denisovitjs liv

English title: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Swedish title: En dag i Ivan Denisovitjs liv
Original title: Один день Ивана Денисовича
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Year: 1962

First, some sort of disclaimer. I read this book last summer, but I have somehow managed to forget to review it. I still have a distinct impression of what I felt about the book, and I do not think that time has yet altered that impression in any significant way. The feeling is a bit similar to what I felt after reading Imre Kertész’ Sorstalanság (in Swedish).

Both these novels manage to depict something horrible that has been written about so many times that it ought to be hard to write about them in a way which makes them not only educational, but also entertaining to read. Do not misunderstand me, the main focus of this novella is to tell the story about one day in a Soviet labour camp for one of its prisoners, Ivan Denisovitj, during the 1950s, and therefore, the book as a whole can never have a positive theme. What it can have, and actually has, is a narration that does not focus entirely on what is painful and horrible. Instead, the blend of all kinds of emotions, including cheerfulness and camaraderie, paints a credible impression of what life might have been for prisoners.

Combined with a skillfully employed language, I think this book is worthwhile and I recommend it, even to those of you who imagine you do not like this kind of literature. This is a way about writing about something that has to be written about, which manages to be entertaining as well as educational (unlike A Child Called “It” (in Swedish), for instance, which only manages to be educational). Add this novella to your “books I must have read before I die” list.

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