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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich   1 comment

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Excerpt from page 154:

He lay with his head near the window, but Alyosha, who slept next to him on the same level, across a low wooden railing, lay the opposite way, to catch the light.  He was reading his Bible again.

The electric light was quite near.  You could read and even sew by it.

Alyosha heard Shukhov’s whispered prayer, and, turning to him:  “There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray.  Why don’t you give it it’s freedom?”

Shukhov stole a look at him.  Alyosha’s eyes glowed like two candles.

“Well, Alyosha,” he said with a sigh, “it’s this way.  Prayers are like those appeals of ours.  Either they don’t get through or they’re returned with ‘rejected’ scrawled across ’em.”

Outside the staff quarters were four sealed boxes–they were cleared by a security officer once a month.  Many were the appeals that were dropped into them.  The writers waited, counting the weeks:  there’ll be a reply in two months, in one month. . . .

But the reply doesn’t come.  Or if it does it’s only “rejected.”

“But, Ivan Denisovich, it’s because you pray too rarely, and badly at that.  Without really trying.  That’s why your prayers stay unanswered.  One must never stop praying.  If you have real faith you tell a mountain to move and it will move. . . .”

Shukhov grinned and rolled another cigarette.  He took a light from the Estonian.

“Don’t talk nonsense, Alyosha.  I’ve never seen a mountain move.  Well, to tell the truth, I’ve never seen a mountain at all.  But you, now, you prayed in the Caucasus with all that Baptist society of yours–did you make a single mountain move?”

They were an unlucky group too.  What harm did they do anyone by praying to God?  Every damn one of them had been given twenty-five years.  Nowadays they cut all cloth to the same measure–twenty-five years.

“Oh, we didn’t pray for that, Ivan Denisovich,” Alyosha said earnestly.  Bible in hand, he drew nearer to Shukhov till they lay face to face.  “Of all earthly and mortal things Our Lord commanded us to pray only for our daily bread.  ‘Give us this day our daily bread.'”

“Our ration, you mean?” asked Shukhov.

But Alyosha didn’t give up.  Arguing more with his eyes than his tongue, he plucked at Shukhov’s sleeve, stroked his arm, and said:  “Ivan Denisovich, you shouldn’t pray to get parcels or for extra stew, not for that.  Things that man puts a high price on are vile in the eyes of Our Lord.  We must pray about things of the spirit–that the Lord Jesus should remove the scum of anger from out hearts. . . .”

Page 156:

“Alyosha,” he said, withdrawing his arm and blowing smoke into his face.  “I’m not against God, understand that.  I do believe in God.  But I don’t believe in paradise or in hell.  Why do you take us for fools and stuff us with your paradise and hell stories?  That’s what I don’t like.”

He lay back, dropping his cigarette ash with care between the bunk frame and the window, so as to singe nothing of the captain’s below.  He sank into his own thoughts.  He didn’t hear Alyosha’s mumbling.

“Well,” he said conclusively, “however much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch.  You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.”

“Oh, you mustn’t pray for that either,” said Alyosha, horrified.  “Why do you want freedom?  In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds.  You should rejoice that you’re in prison.  Here you have time to think about your soul.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:  ‘Why all these tears?  Why are you trying to weaken my resolution?  For my part I am ready not merely to be bound but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.'”

_____

“The thoughts of a prisoner—they’re not free either. They kept returning to the same things. A single idea keeps stirring. Would they feel that piece of bread in the mattress? Would he have any luck in the dispensary that evening? Would they out Buinovsky in the cells? And how did Tsezar get his hands on that warm vest?”

― Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

Dover Beach
The Alexandr Solzhenitsyn Center
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970)