The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics.

The Classics Reclamation Project

I came across One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (whose name I can almost spell now without looking it up) while perusing my library’s downloadable audiobooks. It was a classic, it was narrated by Frank Muller (can’t go wrong there!), it was by an author I’ve been meaning to read, and there was no waiting list. So, onto my iPod it went.

The novel was first published in 1962 in Russian. It made a big splash because, to quote Wikipedia, “never before had an account of Stalinist repression been openly distributed.” I can see why it would have gotten lots of attention. Solzhenitsyn based One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich on his own labor camp experiences.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is, in fact, exactly what it claims to be. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s. The novel follows him from the time he wakes up one morning morning to the time he goes to bed that night. It’s like Solzhenitsyn just snipped a typical day out of his protagonist’s life and laid it out on paper. I can’t imagine a more fitting title.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (cover)Yet the title is also deceptively simple. There is so much more going on in this novel. We get the layout of the camp, its rules and regulations, the nature of the work conducted there. We come to understand a bit about its politics: in the barracks, in the lines, in the cafeteria, on the job. We experience the camp dynamic, the hierarchy and attitudes between and among prisoners and their guards. Through his actions, Shukhov shows us how to secure extra food, how to effectively hide small treasures from guards and fellow prisoners, how to stay out of trouble, how to make decisions no one should have to make. And all this from the simple narration of one man’s day.

I came to like Shukhov quite a bit. I admired his patience and determination, shrewdness and cleverness, his thorough understanding and working of the system in which he was trapped. He had figured out how to survive, and I marveled as I watched. The bits of his backstory that wormed their way into his day made me root for him even harder.

This is the third audiobook I’ve listened to that was read by Frank Muller. The man is a genius with the classics. One problem I sometimes face with the so-called classics is that I get bogged down in the language. Muller reads at a steady clip, wedging what might otherwise be arduous, hard to follow prose into easy modern speech. He doesn’t mull over the words or stretch the lines out the way some narrators do; he gets down to the business of reading the story. It helps that his voice just sounds right for the books he narrates. I’ll never hesitate to listen to a classic Muller has narrated. He’s that good. Listening to the audiobook in this case was beneficial in a way as well, as I often stumble over the pronunciation of unfamiliar foreign names when reading. Hearing someone else pronounce them easily was a treat.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to ascertain who translated the version I listened to, so I can’t pass that information along or give credit where it’s due. It was a very good translation, though, to the point that I often found myself forgetting the novel hadn’t been written in English. The cover image displayed here also isn’t the one from the version I listened to…the perils of downloading audiobooks from the library! The novel is short (just over 4 hours on audio) and very good, though, and I would very much recommend it if your interest is piqued. I know I’ll be looking for more by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

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  1. I have wanted to read this for a long, long time, and from what you say about it, it sounds like it’s an excellent choice. I am going to have to see if I can get this audio from my library and check it out. It’s something I don’t want to miss.

  2. Oh, this sounds amazing, I love classics that are well done on audio!

    1. Me too — they come alive in a way they don’t always in print, at least for me.

  3. I really enjoyed this book, but admit I don’t like Frank Mueller as an audio narrator. The only thing I’ve listen to him read, though, was Steinbeck’s The Pearl, and maybe he just didn’t do a good job in that one?

    1. Aww, that’s too bad. I first listened to him read The Great Gatsby, which I thought he did marvelously. I really like how he doesn’t read at a snail’s place, plus, to me, he just sounds right for the books I’ve heard him read. Haven’t tried The Pearl, so I can’t comment on that. Might just be that we have different narrator tastes!

  4. I’m so glad you enjoy it. Ivan’s always been my nemesis–it took me three attempts to get through this slim little volume!

    It is deeply moving, though, particularly given its bearing on Solzhenitsyn’s life. I’m still astonished that people can–and did–survive in such conditions.

    1. I’m not sure I would’ve gotten through it in print, actually! It’s one of those books that just worked really well on audio for me. Glad you finally got through it. I agree about Solzenitsyn’s personal connection. I didn’t realize that until after I’d finished the book.

  5. I read this one while travelling, and I liked it. It seems like a book that would be better listened to, actually, now that I think about it. It just feels like a story that should be read out loud.

    1. It was wonderful read out loud. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’d have liked it as much in print. And Muller just sounded right, somehow, even with his blatantly American accent. He had the attitude right, or something!

  6. I think audio may be a perfect way to go for this book! I haven’t read it yet, but so glad to hear that it’s deceptively simple and that you liked it enough to seek out more by the author!

  7. One Day In the Life is one of my favorite books; I’m so happy you enjoyed it too! I really want to tackle some of his other novels as well, but their 800+ pages keep holding me back.

    1. Um, yes, the rest of his novels are scary. Buddy read…sometime a long way off? 🙂

    1. This was my first time with Solzhenitsyn. If you already know you like the book, I bet the audio would work really well! It would be interesting to compare reading with listening.

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