Cancer Ward

Discrimination Free Zone

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Translated By Nicolas Bethell & David Burg
Russian, 1966 (Samizdat) 1968
Semi-Autobiographical, Political

Main Attractions


1.  Emotionally charged narrative    
2.  Many characters from all walks
3.  Raises various ethical questions
4.  Confident female characters
5.  Shows men at their weakest times
6.  A few complicated relationships
7.  Some ahem, medical situations
8.  Novel’s heart is “The Old Doctor”
9.  Eye opening about humanity
10. Much healing & profound change



Cuisine & Delicacies
Ranked as: Han Jeong Shik
This single book encompasses so many facets of humanity from completely different points of view.  From the beginning, Solzhenitsyn unfolds the novel one story at a time.  We see this patient tell their opinions about medicine, then we shift to different medical staff who share theirs.  Later, Solzhenitsyn brings in the characters pasts and we see yet another point of view or it challenges our own perception of that character.  With all of these points of view, the novel is still very readable and easy to understand because there’s a favourite character for almost every reader.  The women are considered with such great respect, one lady is proud to not be married and enjoys being single to date, there’s no shame surrounding her sex life, she is struggling to find love because she puts her work first.  Besides the sheer power of Solzhenitsyn’s narrative craft, his commentary on the medical care is so relevant today.  This single chapter is the most moving of all his writing and could be the heart of all he stands for.  It’s a truly beautiful scene, is a spoiler because he’s building up to it with the rest of the novel and is near the end of the book.      

Why Visit Here

Cancer is the plaguing illness of today.  It’s difficult to read about this subject because it’s so relatable.  It’s painful to talk about because so many or all people have been touched by cancer.  This book shows us that side of cancer we are all familiar with, the pain, treatment options, desperation to be cured, embarrassing or complex moments of humanity and the beauty of the human soul.  

Most of all, this book raises so many questions about medical care today.  He shows us how the patients feel and also how the doctors feel about it.  Often, we only consider our side of the argument and forget there is an equally valid other side.  This applies to much more than just medical treatment.  Our society is changing in so many profound ways today that being reminding of other sides is becoming even more important.  

Destination Summary

Characters from all walks of life are unified by a single variable, they all currently exist within the single section of a hospital called the Cancer Ward.  We follow a few of the patients while they seek treatment.  We also learn about the caretakers and staff who care for these people.  It humanizes both sides of cancer, those dying and healing.

Off the Beaten Path

Solzhenitsyn wrote this after he survived his own cancer treatments so his voice is crisp, brining all elements of great storytelling together into one unified whole.  The entire novel flows effortlessly because of how familiar he is with the subject.  

Packing List
✓ Google Images for looking up small towns mentioned.
✓ Ward No. 6 By Anton Chekov to toughen up the feels.
✓ A list of colour coded perceptions, they will be expanded.

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ The Last Day of a Condemned Man By Victor Hugo (1829) - This short book goes though the thoughts of a man waiting for death later that day, gives insight to some unspoken thoughts of the patients in Cancer Ward.
✓ In the First Circle By Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn (1968) - He wrote this at the same time as Cancer Ward and he addresses the concept of the soul & prison from 2 different points of view in these 2 books.
✓ Principles of Biomedical Ethics By Tom L. Beauchamp (1978, 5 Editions since) - A dry, dry philosophical treatise of ethics in the medical field covering everything from treatment to  resource allocation.  It’ll sober you up when the feels overtake you.

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