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Quotes from One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

Quotes from One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Let your work warm you up, that was your only salvation.

…all were chilled to the bone, not so much from the actual cold as from the prospect of having to spend the whole day in it.

Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for the fool you simply gave him eyewash. Otherwise, everybody would have croaked long ago. They all knew that.

From the outside, everyone in the squad looked the same–their numbered black coats were identical–but within the squad there were great distinctions. Everyone had his grade.

…you should never be conspicuous. The main thing was never to be seen by a campguard on your own, only in a group.

He sat in that uncomfortable way, involuntarily emphasizing that he was unfamiliar with the place and that he’d come there on some minor matter.

How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand a man who’s cold?

…food gulped down is no food at all; it’s wasted; it gives you no feeling of fullness.

There is nothing as bitter as this moment when you go out to the morning roll call–in the dark, in the cold, with a hungry belly, to face a whole day of work. You lose your tongue. You lose all desire to speak to anyone.

…all his longing was concentrated in that cigarette butt–which meant more to him now, it seemed, than freedom itself–but he would never lower himself like that Fetikov, he would never look at a man’s mouth.

When the weather was cold the guards were fairly lenient in the morning, though not in the evening.

No [guard] dared make a mistake. If you signed for one head too many, you filled the gap with your own.

“You always get the sharpest frost at sunrise,” said Buinovksky. “You see, it’s the coldest point of the night.”

The thoughts of a prisoner–they’re not free either. They keep returning to the same things. A single idea keeps stirring.

During his years of prisons and camps he’d lost the habit of planning for the next day, for a year ahead, for supporting his family. The authorities did his thinking for him about everything–it was somehow easier that way.

Easy money weighs light in the hand and doesn’t give you the feeling you’ve earned it. There was truth in the old saying: pay short money and get short value.

In camp the squad leader is everything: a good one will give you a second life; a bad one will put you in your coffin.

They tormented the life out of you with their vigilance.

You had to eat with all your mind on the food–like now, nibbling the bread bit by bit, working the crumbs up into a pace with your tongue and sucking it into your cheeks. And how good it tasted–that soggy black bread! What had he eaten for eight, no, more than eight years? Next to nothing. But how much work had he done? Ah!

Well it’s said that nationality doesn’t mean anything and that every nation has it’s bad eggs. But among all  the Estonians Shukov had known he’d never met a bad one.

If you show your pride too much, he said, you’re lost. There was truth in that. Better to growl and submit. If you were stubborn they broke you.

…no spoon is as good for scraping a bowl of cereal as a bread crust.

Difficult as it was to start working in such cold, the important things was to get going.

He’d been in the camp only two years but already he understood everything: if you don’t use your teeth you get nothing.

He never spoke without making a joke, that Kilas, and was popular with the whole squad for it.

Why, you might wonder, should prisoners wear themselves out, working hard, ten years on end, in the camps? You might think they’d say: No thank you, and that’s all. We’ll drag ourselves through the day till evening, and then the night is ours.

But that didn’t work. To outsmart you they thought up work squads—but not squads like the ones outside the camps, where every man is paid his separate wage. Everything was arranged in the camp that the prisoners egged one another on. It was like this: either you all got a bit extra or you all croaked.

Regardless, you put your back into the work. For unless you could managed to provide yourself with the means of warming up, you and everyone else would give out on the spot.

You don’t have to be very bright to carry a handbarrow. So the squad leader gave such work to people who’d been in positions of authority.

You’ve only to show up to whip a beaten dog.

More depends on the work report than the work itself. A clever squad leader was one who concentrated on the work report. That was what kept the men fed.

Though there was little wind that day, there might be plenty tomorrow, and this bend would prevent the pipe from smoking. They mustn’t’ forget that it was from themselves they they were fixing the stove.

Wonder of wonders! How time flew when you were working! That was something he’d often noticed.The days rolled by in the camp–the were over before you could say “knife”. But the years, they never rolled by: they never moved by a second.

Waste not, want not.

…five days’ work for for four days’ food.

Tiurin never wasted his words, and if he permitted himself to talk, then he was in good humor.

Thank God for the man who does his job and keeps his mouth shut.

A man should build a house with his own hand before he cars before he calls himself and engineer.  

A man with two trades can easily learn another ten.

If a man asks for help why not help him? Those Baptists had something there.

It’s no joke to rob five hundred men of over half an hour.

A man who’s in a hurry won’t live to see the end of his stretch–he’ll tire and soon be done for.

Who’s the zek’s main enemy? Another zek. If only they weren’t at odds with one another–ah, what a difference that’d make.

That bowl of soup–it was dearer than freedom, dearer than life itself, past, present, and future.

Most writing in camp was done on plywood, not on paper. It was surer, somehow, more reliable. The guards and turnkeys used wood, too, for keeping tally of the zeks. You can scrape it clean for the next day, and use it again. Economical.

Life in camp wore him out from reveille to bedtime, with not a second for idle reflections.

Generally, the evening stew was much thinner than at breakfast: if they’re to work, prisoners must be fed in the morning; in the evening they’ll go to sleep anyway.  

The belly is a demon. It doesn’t remember how well you treated it yesterday; it’ll cry out for more tomorrow.

…the quickest louse is always the first to be caught in the comb.

For all that he may be unable to read or write, a herdsman knows if there’s a calf missing when he’s driving the herd.

Now he didn’t know either whether he wanted freedom or not.


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