Sunday, October 4, 2009

17: One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

This is one of those books that I always wanted to read, but never got around to it. I thought it might be depressing and, like a hypochondriac, I often suspect myself of depression, read about symptoms of various mental illnesses, and fall under the impression that one depressing book will plunge me into a fit of depression and completely ruin my life by spur-of-the-moment neurotic choices. Not that this has ever happened to me before or anything ...

This book is set in a Soviet labour camp and details a common prisoner's day, from waking to sleeping. That's a lot of promise for misery - mostly coming from the words "labour" and "prisoner". But, I was, fortunately, wrong. If anything, this book is very opposite of disheartening. The prisoner whose day we follow is actually very optimistic. He has accepted the harsh conditions of the camp as normal and works within the constraints to get the best situations possible. He takes pride in the work that he does and savours the thin rations like the fancy food at fabulous restaurants that come in tiny servings. His day is actually quite bright. I'd even say that this would be a book to read to get out of depression.

Really, people can adapt to any situation, as long as they have the right mindset. What is the mindset? Somewhere towards the end of the day, our prisoner reflects that he feels bad for one of the other prisoners because he hadn't the right attitude that would let him survive. So, there is a right mindset and a wrong one. What is it? Acceptance and forebearance? Or learning to ignore unpleasant things rather than dwelling on them? Or taking things as they come and not worry about the far future? After all, our prisoner only ever concentrates on this day that we've been shown and doesn't worry about the other 3562 days of his 10 year prison term.

The extra three were for leap years."

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.

1 comment:

  1. I have the same fear! I convince myself that I have to be in exactly the right mood to read a certain "type" of book - which is nonsense really, but we all have our little quirks. :)

    I think I've got this book tucked away amongst the stacks, might have to dig it out.