One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is a classic of contemporary literature.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is a classic of contemporary literature.

Book Talk: Worldly classics

Great stories, no matter the culture of origin, are universal in appeal

Peter Critchley

For The Morning Star

Great stories, no matter the culture of origin, are universal in appeal. We recognize ourselves in the characters and stories — our hopes and dreams, our frailties and flaws — and are deeply drawn into worlds we would not otherwise know. In the end, we are all richer for it.

Remembering Babylon (1993) by David Malouf is simply a masterpiece. The Australian author examines the fragility of identity from within a band of 19th century British colonials, who have scrabbled out a living in the bush. The community is completely isolated and the settlers feel both vulnerable and disoriented.

One day a “black-white man” looms up from a swamp at the settlement, “in a shape more like a watery, heat-struck mirage than a thing of substance, elongated and airily indistinct.” Gemmy Fairley, cast ashore as a 13-year-old boy in the far north of Australia and raised by Aborigines, can barely speak English.

He can no longer define what he is but he does recognize that he shares his dreams with another creature who surfaced when he first encountered the settlers. He haltingly identifies himself as a “B-b-british object” and becomes an object indeed, first of the colonists’ amazement and soon of their disquiet, suspicion and frightened hostility.

One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a landmark novel. It is a magnificent story and perhaps the finest work of the great Columbian author and Nobel-prize winner. The opening of the grand tale sets the stage like few other openings ever written. It is almost a story unto itself.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many thing lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is a classic of contemporary literature that still strongly resonates today. There is hardly a new detail in the story — the cruelty, the falseness of the charges, the brutal fight for survival. However, the author changes our perception of the bare facts, in much the same fashion as Dostoyevsky did with Notes, from the House of the Dead, with this simple, almost flawless tale of eloquence and understatement.

Ivan Denisovich Shukov, the central figure, is a simple peasant sentenced to the Gulag for being a spy. He made the colossal mistake of telling the authorities he escaped from the Germans, who captured him prisoner in 1943, and made his way back to the Russian lines. If he kept his mouth shut about being a German prisoner of war, he would have received a medal.

The pain of the author’s own decade-long experience in the Gulag is apparent on every searing page of this remarkable work. It is an unforgettable portrait of Stalin’s forced-work camps, and perhaps more importantly, about one man’s will to triumph over relentless dehumanization. This edition of the work is the widely acclaimed translation by H.T. Willets, the only translation authorized by Solzhenitsyn himself.

These three extraordinary works are all available at your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca