Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Carried Away Again

I meant to get settled into Daniel Deronda, I  really did. And I've managed the first couple of chapters of what is obviously going to be a very tasty read. Demanding, but not impossibly so - think George Eliot as early Henry James rather than the later knotty version of The Master.

But I got wonderfully side-tracked into One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and ended up going cover to cover. It came about in the most simple of ways. I was glancing at the opening of the Penguin edition that we recommend for our students, trying to get some sense of how it compared to the translation I read as a teenager. It certainly has a terrific, colloquial driving quality to it - and I just couldn't resist.

And what an astonishing novel it is in every way you can think of. A brilliant indictment of Stalin's Russia, and man's inhumanity to man anywhere, anyworld. But also hopeful in the most unsentimental of ways. Shukhov himself is a remarkable creation. Entirely believable as an emblem of the survivor who somehow doesn't compromise his essential humanity.

Surely one of the great books of its century.

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