Thursday, February 16, 2006

It's Reading Thursday!

This is a first, I think. The mayors of both Chicago and Moscow are coordinating community reading projects:
A novel about a political prisoner's nightmarish life in a Soviet gulag is the spring 2006 pick for the "One Book, One Chicago" reading initiative, city and Chicago Public Library officials announced today.

The selection of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn marks the first time Chicagoans will join residents of an overseas city – in this case, Moscow – to read the same book, Mayor Richard Daley said.

As in Chicago, residents of Moscow will participate in dramatic readings and book discussions of "One Life" during April, Daley said at a news conference this morning at the Near North Branch library, 310 W. Division St.

The novel recounts Ivan Denisovich Shukhov's struggle to survive in a work camp in the Soviet Union of the Stalinist era.

"Some of our books have been about enjoyable, exciting places such as England and the American West," Daley said, referring to past "One Book" selections. "Others have been about very grim places, such as the battlefields of Vietnam and Nazi concentration camps."

The new selection "falls into the latter category," the mayor said.

"It describes one man's struggle not only to survive horrible living conditions, but also to retain a sense of sense," Daley said. "It has been hailed as the most realistic description of the gulag, and it speaks for the nearly 20 million Soviet citizens who worked in mines, downed trees, dug canals and built railroads, factories, under a forced labor system."

Though Solzhenitsyn enjoyed some state sponsorship when his writings were first published in the early 1960s, he quickly fell out of favor. In 1974, he was arrested, stripped of his citizenship and deported from the Soviet Union.

Solzhenitsyn and his family eventually came to the U.S. and settled in Vermont. After the Soviet Union's collapse, the author's citizenship was restored. He returned to Russia in 1994 and now lives in Moscow.

In a prepared statement, Solzhenitsyn said he was "heartened and impressed" Chicago had picked his novel for its reading initiative.

"Although the current times dispose us to sit back and watch our works of literature on the screen, there is no substituting for the effort we exert in spirit by reading, by going outside our own experience; in this case, by walking in the shoes of our cold, exhausted, famished brethren," he said.

Complete lists of readings, dramatizations and book discussions are available on a Chicago Public Library Web site.

"One Day" is the 10th selection of the "One Book, One Chicago" community reading program. The twice-a-year event started as part of Chicago Book Week in the fall of 2001 with the novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. Last fall's "One Book" pick was "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
I remember reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich as an undergraduate at Florida State University.

The Cold War was then in full swing (It was the Reagan Era.) and the book made quite an impression on my young mind. So much an impression, in fact, that some of the survival skills that I learned while reading about Ivan's experiences in the gulag have come in very handy during my service in one of California's junior high schools.
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