One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Bantam, 39th Printing)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander (often spelled Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn follows Ivan Denisovich Shukhov for a single day. Shukhov has been sentenced to ten years of hard labor in the Soviet Gulag system because he was accused of being a spy. However, what actually occurred was that he was briefly captured by Nazis during World War II. So in this book, we are shown a cross section of the hard, cruel life of a man enduring the harsh punishment for a crime he didn’t even commit.

Shukhov’s life is miserable, but Solzhenitsyn shows readers what would be considered to be one of the best possible days one could have in the Gulag. It’s not a great day, comparably, but it’s one with some brief moments of hope and joy.

Solzhenitsyn knew this subject matter well, as he himself was a Gulag prisoner from 1945 to 1953. Solzhenitsyn would eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was one of the works specifically mentioned in the presentation speech. It is largely considered to be one of the most important literary works of the 20th Century.

About the book, writer and journalist Vitaly Korotich said in an interview with the BBC:

It was not the time of computers and printers. Books were printed on cigarette paper, it was the only way to make more copies. The Soviet Union was destroyed by information, only information. And this wave started from Solzhenitsyn’s One Day.


Vitaly Korotich

The cover we’re showing here is for the 39th printing, which was published by Bantam Windstone in August, 1984. This edition was translated by Max Hayward and Ronald Hingley. Unfortunately, the artist is not credited, and the white stripe down the center of the cover is a flaw in our copy rather than an artistic element of the work itself.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Now let’s look at some more recent covers for the novel. Below is the cover for the Bantam mass market paperback edition published in April, 2005. This edition features the same translation as the previous edition we showed.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The painting used as the cover’s backdrop is “Constructivist Still Life” by Russian artist Aleksandra Aleksandrovna Ekster. This work was also used for the cover of the much lesser known book, Dialectics of the Ideal: Evald Ilyenkov and Creative Soviet Marxism by Alex Levant and Vesa Oittinen.

And here’s the New American Library’s August, 2009, printing:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

This one was translated by Ralph Parker. This cover was designed by Patrick Kang, and it makes use of a photo by Steve Cassimiro.