Scene: Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Central Asia, in the old Soviet Union, two years after the death of the brutal dictator, Stalin (1955). Oleg Kostoglotov is lying on the floor of a provincial hospital, at the entrance to the cancer ward, which is unpromising named , the 13th wing, looking up at the cold ceiling, his dead eyes stare. He can't get admitted until a space is available, but a vacancy will arrive soon, he feels death near. Meanwhile stoic Kostoglotov, a survivor of the infamous Gulag, and a permanent exile, can wait, the very sick Russian has little hope for recovery. Finally, Oleg gets in, nine beds in two rows , separated by an aisle in the middle of the room , all the men are dispirited and quiet, except a youth , who is moaning by the corner, unheeded, slowly dying. Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov, has no problem getting a coveted bed , he is an important bureaucrat, but cancer has no favorites, he will discover, shortly. The pitiless Yefrem, the dark joker of the ward, and a much hated man, greets Pavel with these words, " Well, what have we here? Another nice little cancer! " Rusanov, the great man, is not amused, he has connections, a famous Moscow clinic , Rusanov expects soon to be going to, looks down on these people, dirty peasants. Pavel shouldn't be with such riffraff, he has sent many of them , lowlifes, to the labor camps, most never to return, but rumors that the survivors are "returning", makes him feel uneasy, things are changing, not for the better, Rusanov thinks. To the inmates of the cancer ward, reading, is enjoyable, their only entertainment, to pass the dreary time, boredom makes them lethargic. Passing read books to each other, in the ward, some of these, like flies, are seen and quickly float away, others stick to you like molasses on hair. Still Oleg Kostoglotov, even has time to romance two women, Vera, a pretty, friendly doctor in the hospital, and Zoya, even more beautiful and younger nurse, studying to become a physician also. Most of the doctors in the clinic, are women here, a low paying profession then, the head physician is, of course a man, but does Oleg have the right, because of his serious illness, to dream about his future, with a family of his own, to love? One by one , all Oleg's friends, leave the room and go home, to die? This mystery is never explained, strangers now occupy the beds, as a character in the novel says, you can't know everything in the world, whatever happens you'll die a fool... An especially well written autobiographical novel, Solzhenitsyn is showing, through Oleg Kostoglotov, based on his own life, how dehumanizing the old Soviet system was, nobody but the high party members were treated well, everyone supposedly equal, but in reality, some "more equal than others"... And the bleakness of life, the lack of freedom and hope, the ennui, that stifles the spirit of mankind.
It wasn't just something that was happening in the world. In my household, with an American father, a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran (he was a Coastie who was all set to go to Vietnam with U.S. Coast Guard Squadron Oneand wanted to gowhen the U.S. finally pulled out. He didn't count himself lucky), a father who was rabidly patriotic, the Cold War was something that we were fighting every day. Trudeau and his "pinko" Liberal Party were bringing Communism to Canada (where we were all living. My Dad and I were born in the U.S., my Mom and sister were born in Canada). The Soviets were hiding behind every corner; the Red Chinese were Communist and "oriental," which made them particularly evil ("Just look at Mao!"); Patton should have pushed straight on through Berlin and driven his tanks to Moscow; all Soviet athletes were cheaters; the Soviets had no business in Afghanistan (of course, my Dad supports the U.S. presence there today); and on and on and on. So yeah ... the Cold War was real to me.
It was real for my sister too. So real that after watching The Day After (she was only nine. Nice one, Mom and Dad), the famous nuclear holocaust TV movie with Steve Guttenberg and Jason Robards, she took to hiding in our basement bathroom, the darkest room in the house, jamming a towel along the crack at the bottom of the door and teaching herself how to do everything blind. She was convinced that the evil Russkies were going to nuke us into the stone age, and she'd be blinded, if not by the flashes than by the fallout.
And while she was busy torturing herself, I decided to read my father's copy of Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward. My Dad loved Solzhenitsyn, of course, and he held the great author up as an example of everything that was wrong with the Commies. They were silencing one of their great men. One of their great men was in exile. Obviously they were evil bastards. My Dad owned everything Solzhenitsyn had written at that point (at least those available in translation), and I'd seen him leafing through Gulag Archipelago, although I am certain he never read anything but the captions around the pictures. I wanted to impress him, and I was reading tons of big books at the time, so I thought, "Why not Cancer Ward?"
I didn't get far. About one hundred pages. But what I read stuck with me for many years. I remembered vividly that the hospital was horrific . It was grey and appalling and squalid and filthy and ineffective, and everyone in the hospital was a Communist. Some were being crushed under the fist of others, some were the crushers, but they were all Commies, and they weren't worthy of pity. They chose their stupid systemtheir evil systemand they got what the deserved.
It's amazing the way indoctrination (and living with my father can be considered nothing other than that) takes hold and shifts perspective. The lenses I saw Cancer Ward through were Star Spangled, and even though I couldn't get through Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's dreary world that first time, I always loved the book and wanted to try reading it again because it made my worldmy North American worldso much brighter. And damn did it feel good to have my moral and ideological superiority confirmed by a man who had lived "under" Communism.
My lenses aren't Star Spangled anymore, and that same hundred pages that I read when I was twelve revealed a society that I can walk out my door and see today. The hospital is no different from the crowded hospital my wife nurses in. Hell, I could have seen it back then if I'd had other lenses.
Don't mistake me, though. The Soviet Union that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shows us here (and in his equally brilliant One Day in the LIfe of Ivan Denisovich) is no utopia. It's not a pretty place. Horrors abound in Stalinist Russia. Minorities are sent to prison for "criminal activity" (often activities that were intentionally criminalized to insure their incarceration), the poor stay poor and those with power flaunt their ease and wealth and special treatment, the poor were in constant fear of being watched by secret police and local police, of being screwed over by those in power on a whim. It wasn't pretty.
But what I couldn't see through those glasses of mine is that the Soviet Union was really no different than the United States. If your skin was black or yellow or tanned (yes, even today), you were looking at all the same shit in the U.S. that you'd be looking at in the U.S.S.R.. The only difference I could see is that in the Soviet Union the folks that were at riskthose who could be shipped off to engage in forced labour and starvation when the famine hitwere the people that are safe here (oops ... and free health care for all, even the poor). The middle class, us, the mainstream ... in Russia they were as vulnerable as those we fucked (and continue to fuck) in North America. So the U.S.S.R. had to be vilified; it had to be evil and horrible and nasty because we never wanted to lose the power that we were indoctrinated into believing was our birth right.
If you read Cancer Ward now, try to read it through the lenses of the poor in Detroit or Toronto or East or South Central L.A. or any other big city with its embarrassing, obligatory ghettoes. See with the eyes of those people you share your country with and your communities with. Recognize that what Solzehitsyn was rightly condemning in the Soviet Union is something we would be right to condemn in Canada and the U.S. and England (riots anyone?) today.
And then allow yourself to take joy in the beautiful spirits of Oleg Filimonovich Kostoglotov and the women he shares love with. They're not different from you at all. There is tremendous beauty in that. Just as there is beauty in the deaths that will come to us all.
Cancer Ward is a semiautobiographical novel by Nobel Prizewinning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Completed in 1966, the novel was distributed in Russia that year in samizdat, and banned there the following year.
The plot focuses on a group of patients as they undergo crude and frightening treatment in a squalid hospital. Cancer Ward tells the story of a small group of patients in Ward 13, the cancer ward of a hospital in Soviet Central Asia in 1955, two years after Joseph Stalin's death.
A range of characters are depicted, including those who benefited from Stalinism, resisted or acquiesced. Like Solzhenitsyn, the main character, the Russian Oleg Kostoglotov, spent time in a labor camp as a "counterrevolutionary" before being exiled to Central Asia under Article 58 (Article 58 of the Russian SFSR Penal Code was put in force on 25 February 1927 to arrest those suspected of counterrevolutionary activities).
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال 1984 میلادی
عنوان: بخش سرطان؛ نویسنده: الکساندر سولژنیتسین؛ مترجم: سعدالله علیزاده؛ تهران امیرکبیر، 1362؛ در 545ص؛ چاپ دیگر 1389؛ در 912ص؛ شابک 9789640013106؛ چاپ سوم 1393؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان روسیهسده 20م
بخش سرطان یک دنیای حیرتزای بیامید و غمباره است، بخش سرطان تمامی روسیه شوروی پیشین است، که در دام غده ی مرگبار خفقان و سرطان سیاسی و روانی است، که در کار شکنجه و احتضار خویشتن خویش است.؛ داستان در همین بخش سرطان است که میگذرد، محیطی تیره و اندوهبار، هر فرد در این نظام بی روزن کلکتویسم، زندانی غده ی بدخیم، و مبتلای شکنجه ی اسارت خویش است.؛ در بخش سرطان، از تبعیدها، زندانها، اردوگاهها و خلاصه شکنجه گاههای روحی، و جسمی استالینی، سخن میرود...؛ از قدرتهای بیرحم اهریمنی ای سخن میرود، که به سادگی محض، چه بسا زندگیها را ویران، و بیسامان میکنند...؛
هیچکس را یارای نجات ازین ظلمتکده نیست.؛ سرنوشت «کوستوگولوتف» نیز جز این نیست؛ او نیز این غده مضاعف را، همیشه و همه جا با خود همراه دارد، و سرانجام جان خویش نیز در سر آن میگذارد؛ بنگریم که محیط رعب انگیز حزبی، چگونه آزاد اندیشی والای بشری را، در سراسر کشور کشته است.؛ کتاب چه ارتقای فراجویانه، چه شهوت راستین، و حزن انگیز، و چه تپش، و جهش، و اشتیاق، برای زیستن انسانی، و آزادانه دارد، چه بسا زندگیها که تباه شدند؛ میلیونها انسان، میلیونها اندیشه، میلیونها آرزو، و آرمان عدالتجویی، و صلح دوستی، که نمیخواستند گوهر زندگیشان، آلوده ستم گردد.؛ آنهمه، نخست زبانشان بریده شد، و سپس در محراب سوسیالیسم حزبی، و دیکتاتوری مارکسیسم قربانی گشتند...؛
نقل نمونه متن: (بدتر از همه بخش سرطان «شماره سیزده» بود.؛ پاول نیکلایویچ روسانف هیچگاه آدمی خرافاتی نبود و نمیتوانست باشد، اما وقتی پای کارت پذیرشش نوشتند «بخش سیزده» قلبش یکباره فرو ریخت.؛ مسئولین بیمارستان باید ابتکار را از خود نشان میدادند که از شماره سیزده برای مشخص کردن بخشهایی مثل ارتوپدی یا زایمان استفاده کنند، نه بخش سرطان.)؛ پایان نقل
تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 22/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی Cancer Ward can be read purely as a literary work, without the reader ever knowing the circumstances in which it was written, without recognizing the larger picture that the book rounds up, of the excruciatingly totalitarian regime under which Russian writers, intellectuals and artists worked, and were finally silenced if they raised their voices against oppression. Like the blood transfusion Kostoglotov received from Gangard, I literally felt this book flow through my veins. I was wary of the injection at the beginning, a bit numb in the middle and completely intoxicated toward the end.
In fact, I think this might be the best piece of literature I have come across so far in my life.
First of allthe characters. Despite being confined to the same small space and sharing a common fate, they are very colourful, different from each other and interesting in their own right. They develop beautifully, right before the eyes of the reader, through their interactions, thoughts, reactions to what life throws at them. There, in their small cancerous universe, every subtle touch, every sigh, every stare, every silence tells a story.
An allegory of the Soviet regime, 'Cancer ward' actually shows that communism and capitalism are two sides of the same coin. We are all captives of the system, it's just the bars that are made of different material. The society we have created is one big cancer ward and we are all locked up in there, everyone in their own little room, each and every one of us both a patient and a doctor. Some suffer, some hope, some battle, some despair, some live in an imaginary world, some hope to break free. And when they do, they don't know how to handle their freedom. Because they were never taught how to. Because they are suddenly left alone. Because they are this one person that laughs when ninety nine people weep. Because we are born slaves, raised as slaves and die slaves. All the way being told that freedom is the utmost human right.
'Cancer ward' is not about cancer; it is not about death either. It is about life. It is about freedom. It is about tolerance. It is about the smell of human skin, the power of a word, the companionship of a dog that gives an invisible meaning to human life. It is about fear and loneliness; about the flesh and the soul; about the equal right of life of every living creature. It is about togetherness and about diversity; about love and walls; about the human spirit flying and the human spirit dying. It is a masterfully crafted encyclopedia of humanism. Cancer Ward … hmmm… Oh, Cancer Ward….
What was I expecting from you? Certainly not a frolicky day in the park… no Maurice Chevalier dance routines. Nope. I can’t say I was duped.
Cancer sucks. Hell, I’m not spouting some fresh angle on an old dictum. Just nod and agree, folks. Most of us have had some dealings with it, some more than others… it’s one of the nastiest things out there… rots you from the inside out, leaves you to dwell on things left unaccomplished and fills your head with messy words like ‘sarcoma’, ‘carcinoma’, ‘lymphoma’, ‘melanoma’, and you know, the biggie: ‘death.’
So, here it is the beginning of Spring, the most joyous of times, birds tweeting, flowers sprouting... and I’m reading about a ward full of cancer patients in Soviet Uzbekistan circa 1955.
Actually, the thing is, it was.
You think that these characters have lived through sieges and war and exiles and now this horrible disease and you still see them grasping at the hope that it's not what it is or what it could be.
There's this great chapter called 'What Men Live By' where each of the characters ponder over the riddle 'what do men live by?' They start to call out responses 'productivity!', 'Professional skill!', 'their pay!', 'Food! Water!', 'Air!' and then you have the quiet ones; 'your homeland' and 'ideals' and finally 'love.' I guess that is the mother load of questions, right? What keeps us going? What keeps us moral? Are we just sheep?
Yeah, I didn't sleep a lot while reading this.
Oleg, who, I guess you could call, the protagonist, the character that Solzhenitsyn models after himself, won me over. We see him struggle with his doctors to have some control of his treatments and then dealing with the side effects (read: Impotence) of said treatment. He comes to the Cancer Ward from his 'perpetual exile' in Kazakhstan and we see how his ideals clash with his fellow bunkmates. His struggle with what life has dealt him with:
"If my life is totally lost, if I can feel in my bones the memory that I'm a prisoner in perpetuity, a perpetual 'con', if Fate hold out no better prospect, if the only expectation I have is being consciously and artificially killed then why bother to save such a life?”
Can you even imagine? Hell, I can't even get past my anger at the pedestrian that hits the walk sign and then proceeds to cross without waiting. I need to reassess. Big.Time.
There's another great scene where he is visiting the zoo. He's promised another patient that he will go there and report back, he's just been released from the ward, given a free day to roam the city before returning to UshTerek and the first encounters a spiral horned goat. It had stood there a long time just like a statue, like a continuation of the rock itself. And when there was no breeze to make its straggly hair flutter it was impossible to prove it was alive, that it wasn't just a trick. Oleg stood there for five minutes and departed in admiration. The goat had not even stirred. That was the sort of character a man needed to get through life.”
Then, he continues on to see a crowd gathering around another cage. Inside is a squirrel in a wheel. ...And there, quite oblivious of its tree and the slender branches up above, stood the squirrel in its wheel—even though no one had forced it there or entice it with foodattracted only by the illusion of sham activity and movement. It had probably begun by running lightly up the steps out of curiosity, not knowing then what a cruel, obsessional thing it was. (It hadn't known the first time, but now at the thousandth time, it knew well enough, yet it made no difference.)”
That's it, I'm playing hookie tomorrow. Screw the machine.
I guess you can ask, how can you be inspired and uplifted by this, Kim? (Don't lie, it's there, I can see you forming the words...)
Hell if I know. I was just overwhelmed by the sense of hope that these people still carried, no matter their lot in life. Sieges, exiles, bread lines, grappling with the idea of ethical socialism yet living in a competitive, do better society. Fighting the idols of the marketplace while trying to stay true to themselves. That says a lot.
So, does this:
The meaning of existence was to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity with which each person is born. Like a silver moon in a calm, still pond. You can't know everything in the world, whatever happens you'll die a fool.'
What else is there to say?
“In the midst of life we are in death.”
The beauty of Cancer Ward is that it illustrates the fact that, quite often, the opposite is true too: even in the midst of death, we can still find so much life. For me, this was by far the most compelling aspect of the novel, that the characters you meet are so vibrantly, tenaciously alive, and that they feel so utterly real. Solzhenitsyn wrote this with his whole heart; his compassion for his characters is undeniable. Overall, an unexpectedly lifeaffirming, heartening look at the human condition! Exceptional and ingenious piece of writing,"Cancer Ward"
One more, later on, later on.
Keeping the review aside, let me say first, 'Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn' is one of the greatest literary craftsman & he 'Must Be Read'.
Before saying anything else let me confess this man is my another favorite Russian writer.
That's my second book by him (the first was "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich") and I'm startled by his eloquent description of those harsh circumstances.
He was an exceptional, visionary & remarkable writer with deadly writing style & heart wrenching life experiences which he amazingly portrayed in the form of books.
Tears stood in my eyes & my heart sank while reading. The title is enough to break your heart more precisely to stab your heart. This book made me think, shatter me and left me in tears.
Every second line of this masterpiece made you think, so I'm going to add all my favorite lines here, don't mind if it get pretty long :)
'But you told me I don't have cancer!... What is the diagnosis?'
'Generally speaking, we don't have to tell our patients what's wrong with them, but if it will make you feel any better, very wellit's lymphoma.'
' You mean it's not cancer?'
' Of course it's not.'
'Come on, tell us, what are you most afraid of in the world now? Of dying! What are you most afraid of talking about? Of death! And what do we call that? Hypocrisy!'
'The hurricane swept by, few of us survived, And many failed to answer friendship's rollcall..'
"But living longer doesn't mean having more life. The real question is, what will I have time to achieve? I must have time to achieve something on this earth. I need three years. If they give me three years, I won't ask more than that. And I don't mean three years lying in the clinic, I mean three years in the field."
'When you're born, you wriggle; when you grow up, you run wild; when you die, that's your lot.'
"Living longer doesn't mean having long life."
"The falsest line of reasoning would be to treat what he was losing as a premise: how happy he'd have been, how far he'd have got, what he'd have attained if only he'd lived longer. The right view was to accept the statistics which stated that some people are bound to die young. By dying young a man stays young for ever in people's memory. If he burns brightly before he dies, his light shines for all time. In his musings during the past few weeks Vadim had discovered an important and at first glance paradoxical point: a man of talent can understand and accept death more easily than a man with noneyet the former has more to lose. A man of no talent craves long life, yet Epicurus had once observed that a fool, if offered eternity, would not know what to do with it."
"A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy, and no one can stop him."
"Be happy with what you've got.
In perpetuity? Why not? In perpetuity!"
"Which place on earth should you love more? The place where you crawled out of the womb, a screaming infant, understanding nothing, not even the evidence of your eyes or ears? Or the place where they first said to you, 'All right, you can go without a guard now, you can go by yourself!"
What is an optimist? The man who says, 'It's worse everywhere else. We're better off here than the rest of the world. We've been lucky.' He is happy with things as they are and he doesn't torment himself.
What is a pessimist? The man who says, 'Things are fine everywhere but here. Everyone else is better off than we are. We're the only ones who've had a bad break?' He torments himself continually.
'If you don't want to croak, you shouldn't get yourself upset. Less talk, less pain.'
'First my own life was taken from me, and now I am being deprived even of the right... to perpetuate myself. I'll be the worst sort of cripple! What use will I be to anyone? An object of men's pityor charity?..."
'Reading them made a shattering impression on me, but it was somehow emptying as well. I got the feeling I didn't really want to live any more...'
'Happiness is a mirage.'
'The only thing is, I don't want to die under the knife. I'm frightened, No matter how long you live or what a dog's life it's been, you still want to live...'
"We are so attached to the earth, and yet we are incapable of holding on to it." ”He was dead but his star burned, it kept burning...
But its light was wasted.
It wasn’t the sort of star that still gives light after being extinguished. It was the sort of star that shines, still shines with all its light, yet no one sees the light or needs it.”
Cancer Ward is like a griefkissed dream: mournful, vivid, and lasting. The disease is merciless, and the war to combat it tireless. Solzhenitsyn doesn’t pander with unrealistic dialogue or outlandish storylines; he simply tells the story of disease, hope, and dread—the “sad music of Russia,” as he called it. Excellent and realistic. I highly recommend.