Ivan Denissovitch Choukhov is a one-in-a-million Russian man, one of the many detainees of the Gulags, the famous Russian work camps during the reign of Stalin. 'Une journée d'Ivan Denissovitch' is indeed just one day in the life of good old Ivan. Basically, this means we get a lot of descriptions of what Ivan Denissovitch does, how he does it, why he does it, what he wants to do and why he can't do the latter. But what happens near the end? Ivan starts to talk!
I honestly wouldn't recommend reading most of this book, but I have to admit I was caught off guard by the ending. Solzhenitsyn delayed giving Denissovitch a human face until the end, and the conversation between Ivan and Aliochia is all the more striking because of this. I actually felt for Ivan. He seems like a nice bloke, a man who can find happiness in the absence of Even More evil. His happiness is the absence of punishment, the little loops in the net. Which gives this book a poignancy that I hadn't expected any more.
Furthermore - why does Solzhenitsyn, after leaving the camps himself, keep writing about them? His mind must have still been imprisoned. Perhaps there is joy to find in the absence of society. Can the camps be positive? It begs the question.