Cancer Ward

Cancer Ward

I've read a lot of Russian writers. Some of the deepest stories, most critical psychology and simple, good writing come out of that country. I thought I'd already read the best, but it's always a nice surprise to be blown away by a book you just ran into in a used bookstore, but had never heard of before.

I'd heard of the author, though, and read his most famous book. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich made Alexander Solzhenitszn famous and was the only book of his that was permitted to be published in the Soviet Union in his lifetime. It's a great book, a life changer. But Cancer Ward is better.

Just as A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was based on Solzhenitszn's experiences in a Siberian concentration camp whereas Cancer Ward is based on his experiences battling cancer in a state run hospital. In it we meet and hear the stories of the patients, the doctors and their families. And a much larger story is told by the stories of each character all together, that of a society and system of government in crisis. 

The lack of freedom in the Soviet Union touches all the characters: the doctors bound by the state controlled health system, the patients by the jobs they are forced into but con no longer perform due to their disease. Most of all, the characters in one way or another, are affected by the labor camps. Many were prisoners or exiles or had denounced someone, either by choice or out of malice.

So the doctors struggle through their busy schedules while the patients lay around the ward suffering and arguing with each other. That alone makes a good story, but on every page, Solzhenitszn gives us some amazing insight into the human condition. Read Cancer Ward to see for yourself.