Two Tonys on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

26 May 06

“Whattaya readin’?” Two Tonys asked.
Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov,” I said. “He was a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp in Siberia where they worked most inmates to death. I feel lucky being here after reading about these conditions. They were working in temperatures as low as seventy degrees below zero – so cold that spit froze in mid air. If you refused to work, you were thrown off a cliff or tied to a horse and dragged to death.”
“Have you ever read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich?”
“No. There’s an Ivan Ivanovich in this book, who hung himself from a tree without a rope by placing his neck where the tree branches forked.”
“I’m talkin’ about Ivan Denisovich. It’s a book by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a writer who fought in World War 2 and was sent to the gulag for criticizing Stalin. The conditions were barely survivable. It was eat, keep warm, and try to stay alive. That was the whole struggle. There was none of this shit: 'chows twenty minutes late', or ‘why haven’t they opened my door for rec?’ Those folks in the gulag were prayin’ they’d get a fish eyeball in their soup – a little protein. They weren’t whinin’ 'cause they couldn’t wear a beanie cap. They had to wrap old socks around their heads so they wouldn’t lose their noses and ears to frostbite in the Siberian weather. There were no grievances and lawsuits. Imagine standing next to Ivan Denisovich, whose fingertips are turnin’ black with gangrene, and complainin’ that the store didn’t have your favourite brand of toothpaste or the water’s not hot enough or the razors are dull or you only got two rolls of toilet paper. It was a raw battle for survival. This was deep behind the Iron Curtain in the late forties, early fifties. Sheer communist totalitarianism. Most of the people they sent there were just political prisoners who hadn’t committed crimes. They’d just criticized some commissar’s old lady for havin’ a fat red ass.”
“Do you feel you’re lucky being here compared to what you've read about?”
“Yeah. My predicament’s a joke. I’m sixty-five years old. I’m gonna die in this motherfucker. But you’ve gotta die somewhere. Some get cancer. Some get their faces burnt off in car wrecks. Some kids get the flag waved at 'em in high school and hear, ‘God Bless America,’ and next thing they know they’re in the back of a Humvee in Iraq drivin’ over some explosive device, and all that’s sent back to their parents are their nuts and schlongs in body bags, folded in American flags, with letters from George Dubya Bush sayin’ ‘Thanks for the sacrifice.’ So big deal I’m gonna die in here. It could be worse. That’s what I’ve got comin’ 'cause I earned life in prison. I had to whack a few motherfuckers to get here. But at least I’m not in a Siberian gulag with some honky Polack, who ate pickles or fish-eye soup for breakfast, beatin’ me down if I don’t push enough wheelbarrows of iced dirt to meet Uncle fuckin’ Joe Stalin’s quotas.
Like I’ve said before: life is nothin’ but a state of fuckin’ mind. Shakespeare said in one of his plays: there is no happiness, there is no sadness, the mind makes it so. That’s why you get rich motherfuckers livin’ in mansions on Camelback Mountain blowin’ their brains out 'cause the stock market went down. Compare that to some Indian dude off the rez at the bottom of a ditch who loves life 'cause he’s got enough chump change to get himself a six-pack of Old Milwaukee and some green bologna. Why’s he happy? 'Cause his mind tells him he’s happy.
Me? I’m havin’ the time of my fuckin’ life.”

Email comments to or post them below
Copyright © 2005-2006 Shaun P. Attwood


Anonymous said...

We had to read Solzhenitsyn's stories and much more of that "Dissidence movement writers" at school. To be honest with you, I didn't like that at all, as it was too depressing, but if to use it like Two Tony did, well, that can be used in an optimistic way...I have never thought of that. Thanks. We've read lots of tough stories in the school. I'd recommend "Bread for the Dog" by Georgy Vladimov, it's rare here, I don't even know whether I can buy it here, but who knows what do you have there...You have Solzhenitsyn... As for the worthy Soviet and Russian authors - I love Bulgakov's stories, but most of Soviet-dissidenter writers seem to me too depressing, and Dostoevsky does, as well, in spite of he wasn't dissidenter...As for Russians...Try reading Nickolay Leskov, start with his story named "Golovan". Well, enough of advices here. I'm sorry:)

Anonymous said...

That's awesome! Good for him. Btw, I've been reading this blog since it started. Fantastic job! You're a star!!

Anonymous said...

interesting - one day in the life of ivan denisovich is one of my absolute favourite novels. and instead of depressing i actually find it incredibly uplifting.

it is the story of a man who in the most appalling of circumstances nonetheless finds positivity and happiness in the smallest of events.

i have re-read the book many times - most often when i am at a low point. it never fails to put my lot into perspective and make me happier as a result.

a fantastic book, shaun. short and readable - it should go on your reading list.


Anonymous said...

:) As many people as many opinions in the World. I am enjoying that we have different opinions on books. I feel like you, Westerns, have usually completely different way of thinking on the majority of things. It's amusing, but I like more Western writers... And it's amazing that you, Westerns, like such heavy writers as Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Solzhenitsyn...
My favoirite stories are Salinger's " Frankie and Zooey"...

Anonymous said...

Ahhh yes, the Russian dissident authors.

Guaranteed to make one feel better.

God,just imagine if all of the people in America's prisons were only guilty of "thought crime", instead of their own actions.

C'mon, y'all are there because of what you did, not what you were thinking of doing. Not rebelling against a despotic government.

Hmmmm, maybe we should open up portions of NW Alaska and send Liberals there to fend for themselves for a while

No, really. Keep up the reading. It is ALL good stuff.

Anonymous said...

It is good of Two Tony's to think the way he does. Sounds like a good read Shaun; I might keep a look out for it, but had better wait until my hubby comes back from business in an ex communist country, just to keep me re-assured!!!!

Anonymous said...

Two Tony's acceptance of his fate is comendable. Annie