One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Unexpected Approach

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Russian, 1962
*Dystopian, Historical Fiction, Realism

Main Attractions

1. It’s only 1 Chapter long
2. Surprisingly positive
3. Intro to Gulags and Russian Lit.
4. Very Memorable
5. Unsettling in a Subtle Way
6. Seems so Real
7. Could be Based on Fact
8. Has some Dark Humour
9. Short Read
10. Timeless Atmosphere

Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Dessert Bar
This book is short and told in a very direct way.  But after a rereading or applying psychology to it, the story becomes much deeper.  One can read between the lines to see what the narrator is leaving out of the story.  His method of survival is to keep an upbeat attitude.  Sometimes, the harshness of his routine sets in and the reader can plainly see it.  I think this book can be read into much like Animal Farm or The Pearl.  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a great introduction to Solzhenitsyn’s much deeper books. 

Why Visit Here

This book is short, not to graphic and is a great introduction to part of Russia’s history.  It can also be a great introduction to Russian Literature because of it’s simplicity.  There are a few characters, but nowhere near Dostoevsky’s large cast.  And of course, the names are very Russian which is challenging for us English speakers.

Destination Summary

Great book trailer from an English Class Project. They did a great job! Complete with Soviet music & Lego:

Off the Beaten Path

Short Documentary, 6:00 News approach to a Gulag documentary.  A journalist visits a closed down gulag.  Nothing graphic is shown or talked about.  

Interesting talk on the Gulag experience, from a slightly academic point of view

Travel Advisory

Nothing extremely graphic is described here.  But, there is a constant, eerie feeling throughout the book.  There are some cringeworthy moments that can never be unread.  The alternating cheery, bright attitude and dark, gritty explanations are unsettling.  The book explores the thoughts of a Gulag prisoner which can be unpleasant and unsettling.  For the topic of Gulags, this book has a very low creep factor.  It could be rated as PG-13 for North America.

Packing List

✓ A Spoon & Bowl
✓ Hot Soup & Bread
✓ Gulag Documentary
✓ Any Russian Lit Book

Recommended Resources

Alternate Books
✓ Animal Farm By George Orwell (1945) - This is also a simple story on the surface.  But it’s an allegory for the Russian Revolution and Stalinist Era
Hunger By Knut Hamsun (1890) - The narrator is also on a quest for food & this book has clear, deep psychological struggles
Crime And Punishment By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866) - It’s psychological & a great 1st Russian book and is how I got into Russian Lit.
1984 By George Orwell (1949) - This book has the anguish I was expecting from  a book about Gulags.
Catch 22 By Joseph Heller (1961) - It has the satire of war and dark humour this book alludes to.

Movie Adaptations
✓ One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970) Directed by Caspar Wrede - True to the book and great acting

*Note on Genre: Shmoop considers this a dystopian because the Gulag setting is a “created one.”  I agree wholeheartedly! Their explanation is great, I recommend checking out their page here for more insight: