Then and Now

Alexander_solzhenit_378414b Nicholas Bethell’s 1963 review of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in TLS:

In the Soviet Union it is in the literary periodicals that signs of change, innovation or originality are most often detected, but it is rare indeed to find together two works of such interest as those in the November number of Novy Mir.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn is a sixty-six page novella, written apparently some time ago and stored away in a bottom drawer in the hope that one day it could be printed. As Mr. Tvardovsky, in a combined introduction and apologia for the story, somewhat unnecessarily tells us, “the subject matter on which A. Solzhenitsyn’s novel is based is unusual in Soviet literature”. Unusual it certainly is, being an account of life in a postwar “correc-tive labour camp” in Siberia. Apart from its literary merit the documentary interest of the story must be immense; these camps have been much discussed and much described, but hitherto the truth has been dulled in most westerners’ minds by a feeling that everybody has some axe to grind. It has been assumed that the Russian refugee will exaggerate and that the Russian communist will minimize. Now, incredibly, these two are on common ground and it turns out that there has been little exaggeration; it would, in this case, be almost impossible.