I had once started this little book on a too fast pace and shortly I had to give it up; it surely isn't the way to fully enjoy this wonderful piece of high literature: not a David Copperfield, so to speak. Given it another try, I savoured every line, in fact every sentence used by the author to convey the human drama represented by the life -one day in the life, in fact- of this prisoner of Soviet communism in Siberia. The language is meant to express what Ivan is going through, from the morning call to his falling asleep, his labors and worries, his anxiety and fears, his hope -which is all about suriving one more day in this frozen hell- and his physical surroundings with his co-prisoners and jailers. We are in a Soviet labor camp with Ivan; we feel the cold that he feels; we dress what he dresses; he works his mind minutely to grasp for chances of improving his condition, even if it's only in a tiny way: whatever helps his body and keeps his mind fighting for survival another day; and also, as seen in the last pages, there's room at the end of the day to look for some spiritual nourishment, whatever helps to survive will not be refused. It's therefore a full book in the sense that, even though short in pages and in the chronological sense, it covers the whole range of human facets, condensed into one closely watched and intensely lived day.
The thing about the book is not the story -there is really no beginning or end; it starts in media res- but the power of detail, of so many tiny details involving decisions, impressions, sensations, fears, sufferings, etc... The author's power to convey all that, and represented within the frame of a single day and a few pages, is what makes Solzhenitsyn a really great writer.