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