I didn`t expect this novel. When I heard the word Solzhenitsen,I have always expected heavy introspection and connections with the vastness of Russia and its ways. This book is the opposite. Its focus is one day in the life of a gulag prisoner; a gulag is a Siberian camp for those who have offended the state in some way. The book details the day from waking,working and supper through to the final minutes before bed.
The cold is everywhere. From the stretched icy cobwebs on the inside of the room when Ivan wakes, to the ice that freezes the mortar,hot from the concrete mixer to the detailed discussion of boots, we freeze with him. It is a harsh world where men only survive through alliances and services. Here the qualities of unselfishness and thought about one`s fellow man are even more productive than in the modern world. The team leader is vital: he protects and watches for the team. He fights for the right to work on a building site with some cover and the odd scrap of wood or metal to be made into something else. The focus on essentials is such a lesson to the modern reader: bread is measured out in grams; the hot water that passes for soup; the pinches of tobacco which are eagerly passed about and the lack of basic sustenance that we throw away every day.
The lessons are everywhere, and it is this reflection which creates the magic of the novel. I shall never complain about the cold or what I have to eat again, never.