Our Notes & References
The rare first edition of Solzhenitsyn’s first published book; a celebrated “pirate” edition published abroad. A fine example of the rarer issue with a watchtower on the cover, probably the first published, before the “bearded-man” cover.
The plot of Solzhenitsyn’s very first published novel is set in a Soviet labour camp in the 1950s and describes a single day of an ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.
The novel first appeared in print in November 1962 in the Soviet literary magazine Noviy Mir (New World). It was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history since never before had an account of Stalinist repression been openly distributed. The editor of Novy Mir, Aleksandr Tvardovskiy, wrote in a short introduction for the issue, titled “Instead of a Foreword”:
The author chose an ordinary day in the life of a labour camp prisoner from a reveille until lock up. Still, this “ordinary” day can’t but touch the hearts of the readers and let them feel overwhelming sorrow and pain for the fate of the people, who become so close and familiar through the pages of this novel.
Even though the characters are fictional the novel has a very personal feel. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) had first-hand experience of the Gulag, having been imprisoned from 1945 to 1953 for writing a derogatory comment in a letter to a fellow officer about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he called “the whiskered one”.
The novel was specifically mentioned in the Nobel Prize presentation speech when the Nobel Committee awarded Solzhenitsyn the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. After more than half a century since its publication the significance and influence of the deceptively simple story remains unsurpassed.
With Eric Korn, bookseller in London; Private collection, London.
T. Mathew, “A guide to the Russian editions of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s major works”, Rare Book Review.