Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr “Cancer Ward”

We don’t value animals’ love anymore, and we often laugh if someone is attached to his cat. But if we stop loving animals – don’t we inevitably stop loving people too?

Essential book information

  • Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Name of the book: Cancer Ward
  • 1966 (original), 1968 (English excerpts)

Basic plot summary

A semi-autobiographical novel is telling stories of cancer ward patients in the hospital in Soviet Uzbekistan.


The story follows the arrival and time at the hospital of the main character, Oleg Kostoglotov. Oleg arrived at the hospital from the exile in South Asia after spending some time in the labour camp as a counter-revolutionary.

Solzhenitsyn pictures every character with attention to details. He has gathered in the ward a collection of fascinating personalities – from the exiled counter-revolutionary through idealistic student to self-righteous government employee. Medical staff is no less exciting – doctors fighting the understanding that the treatment might do more harm than good, idealistic war-staff and flirty nurses. Their views, beliefs, values and fears are uncovered in the ward. Once the illness takes over, and sufferings pry open the patients, their true colours show themselves as clearly as never. The novel shows all various disease levels and all multiple facets of how humans deal with pain. I felt explicitly nauseated by the description of medical treatments inflicted upon those people in the light of what we know today about the roentgen, radiation and hormonal therapy.

My recommendation

I have not yet read much of Solzhenitsyn, but he seems to be a good character student. The book is fascinating; it poses substantial questions like: Are we ever to be sure of what we think is right? What was harder – being sentenced and exiled or being left behind and integrated as a part of the political apparatus? What makes us lie, and what makes us tell the truth? What is the true meaning of the Hippocratic Oath?

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