Cancer Ward

Cancer Ward

infobox Book |
name = Cancer Ward
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
cover_artist =
country = U.S.S.R.
language = Russian
series =
genre = Semi Autobiographical novel
publisher = Dial Press (US) & Bodley Head (UK)
release_date = 1968
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = ISBN 0-394-60499-7
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Cancer Ward" is a 1968 novel by Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Plot summary

The novel is set in a hospital in Soviet Uzbekistan in the 1950s. As the title hints, the plot focuses on a group of cancer patients as they undergo therapy. The novel deals with political theories, mortality, and hope — themes that are often explored either through descriptive passages or the conversations the characters have within the ward, which is a microcosm of the post-Stalin Russian Communist government.

Also explored is the effect life in the labour camps will have on a man's life, as Oleg Kostoglotov, the main character, is shocked to discover the materialist world of the city outside the cancer ward. Oleg is in "Perpetual Exile" in Ush-Terek, in Kazakhstan.

Bureaucracy and the nature of power in Stalin's state is represented by Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov, a "personnel officer". The corrupt power of Stalin's regime is shown through his dual desires to be a "worker" but also achieve a "special pension". At the end, Rusanov's wife drops rubbish from her car window, symbolising the carelessness with which the regime treated the country.

The novel is partly autobiographical. The character Oleg Kostoglotov was admitted to the hospital from a gulag, similar to Solzhenitsyn, and later subjected to internal exile in the same region of the USSR. Oleg is depicted as being born in Leningrad, while Solzhenitsyn was born in Rostov.

Some Uzbek landmarks are mentioned in the novel, such as the trolleyline and Chorsu Bazaar. The zoo Oleg visits is now a soccer field near Mirabad Amusement Park.

Oleg begins a romance with Zoya, a nurse and doctor in training, then decides that the emotional attraction he feels for Vera Gangart is more important than the physical attraction he feels for Zoya. At the end, because he has lost his virility due to hormone therapy, he abandons both potential romances.

Character list

Clinic Staff

* Vera Kornilyevna Gangart - the young doctor who treats Kostoglotov with particular kindness. Vera lost her sweetheart in the war, and is dedicated to saving Kostoglotov.
* Ludmila Afanasyevna Dontsova - the head of the cancer clinic who herself falls ill but refuses to be told anything about her treatment
* Zoya - the nurse/doctor in training who is one of Kostoglotov's love interests
* Lev Leonidovich - the gifted surgeon who used to work in a prison camp
* Yevgenia Ustinova - Lev Leonidovich's surgeon colleague, who wears too much lipstick and is an avid smoker
* Nellya - the unreliable orderly who at the end of the book is promoted to food orderly
* Elizaveta Anatolyevna - the reliable orderly who Kostoglotov discovers used to live near him in Leningrad
* Nizamutdin Bahramovich - the head of the clinic, absent throughout most of the book


* Oleg Filimonovich Kostoglotov - The main protagonist, whose last name means "bone chewer," suffering from stomach cancer and exiled 'in perpetuity' in a village called Ush Terek on the steppe
* Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov - The 'personnel' official suffering from lymphoma. Married to Kapitolina Matveyevna, and father to Yuri, Maika, Aviette and Lavrenti Pavlovich (named for Beria)
* Dyomka - the young student with 'a passion for social problems' who has had an unlucky life, culminating in the amputation of his leg in the cancer ward
* Vadim - the geologist who plans to leave his mark on the world of science after his certain death from melanoblastoma
* Aleksei Filippovich Shulubin - the librarian who regrets his life of not speaking out against the regime, and suffers from rectal cancer
* Asya - the gymnast Dyoma grows fond of her while she requires a mastectomy in the clinic
* Sibgatov - the mild mannered Tartar who is a permanent resident on the landing of the cancer ward due to crippling spinal cancer
* Ahmadjan - The Uzbek patient who makes a full recovery, at the end of the novel it appears he is a prison camp guard
* Yefrem Podduyev - A strong overseer who begins to read Tolstoy in his final days of life at the cancer ward
* Friedrich Federau - Exiled German who remains a loyal member of the party
* Maxim Petrovich (Chaly) - A smuggler who befriends Pavel Nikolayevich


* Dormidont Tikhonovich Oreshchenkov - Ludmilla Afanasyevna's teacher, a respectable GP with his own private practice
* The Kadmins - Kostoglotov's exile neighbours and friends, who also spent seven years in the prison camps
* Alla (Aviette) Rusanova - Pavel Nikolayevich's daughter, a poet
* Yuri Rusanov - Pavel Nikolayevich's son, a prosecutor
* Kapitolina Matveyevna - Pavel Nikolayevich's wife
* Dr Maslennikov - A doctor who writes to Kostoglotov about the benefits of chaga, birch fungus, in curing cancer


Cancer Ward the novel, makes many allegorical references to the state of Soviet Russia, in particular the quote from Kostoglotov "A man dies from a tumour, so how can a country survive with growths like labour camps and exiles?" highlights the comparison between cancer overtaking the patient with the police state overtaking Russia.

Solzhenitsyn himself writes in an appendix to "Cancer Ward" that the 'evil man' who threw tobacco in the macaque's eyes at the zoo is meant to directly represent Stalin, and the monkey the innocent prisoner. The other zoo animals also have significance, the tiger reminiscent of Stalin and the squirrel running itself to death the proletariat.


* "Education doesn't make you smarter." - Kostoglotov
* "We always think of death as black, but it's only the preliminaries that are black. Death itself is white" - Pavel Nikolayevich
* "What's worse than cancer? Leprosy." - Kostoglotov
* "'An evil man threw tobacco in the macaque-rhesus eyes.' Oleg was struck dumb. Up to then he had been strolling along smiling with knowing condescension, but now he felt like yelling and roaring across the whole zoo, as though the tobacco had been thrown into his own eyes. 'Why?' Thrown into its eyes, just like that! 'Why? It's senseless! Why?'" - Kostoglotov


# Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1968
# Cancer Ward and the Literature of Disease, Jeffrey Meyers, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 29, No. 1. (Spring, 1983), pp. 54-68

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