by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
This novel takes place around the early 1950’s in post Stalinist Soviet Union Uzbekistan. It’s about people who have cancer and about their lives after the diagnosis. The story begins at the hospital in a small cancer ward where they go through therapy. Each of the characters is facing their own fears, worries and regrets. One of them is a wealthy man, named Rusanov; he thinks that he can win the fight with cancer because of his connections and money. He is more worried and scared about the possible revenge from a man he helped to put in jail many years ago during Stalin’s Great Purge. Many people were killed during that time; others have been arrested and then sent to the labor camps. One of them, Oleg Kostoglotov, is also here in the ward. He has spent years working hard in the labor camp while all his life passed by and now he has cancer. So during the months that he has spent in the hospital, he falls in love with one of the nurses and now feels a strong desire to live, not just give up. Another young man is using all of the time he has left to read and learn, because he wants to do something that will stay after his death. He wants something that will be important to other people and will make him stay alive in their memories.
From the title of the book you might think that it’s a depressing story, but it’s not. Sometimes it was sad, but there is also lot of joy in this book. It’s not just a story about the people and their illnesses; it was an allegory about Soviet Union as well, you can see it clearly in the sentence where Kostoglotov says: “A man dies from a tumor, so how can a country survive with growths like labor camps and exiles?” I had no preconceived expectations for this book when I started to read it, but after only a few pages, I knew I would love it. The book is very deep and emotional, and exquisitely written. The characters in the book were so detailed and alive, their emotions so vivid, that sometimes you feel like they are your own. Solzhenitsyn has written a true masterpiece. If you are looking for something very special then this is the book for you.