A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Introduced by Marijana Dworski of Dworski Books

The controversial publisher, Alec Flegon brought us many of Russia’s greatest writers at the height of the Cold War.  I find him fascinating but know little – so any information or corrections would be gladly received – and in particular anything about early printings of Ivan Denisovich.

I have a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Оди́н день Ива́на Дени́совича) in its first book form.  But which printing? What date?

It is certainly from the first batch; lifted straight out of ‘Novy Mir’ magazine where it first appeared in print. It’s unauthorised, it’s either 1962 or 1963 – I believe it’s 1962 – our major libraries are undecided.  So far I’ve found three different covers to the book, one of which Felgon himself reproduces in his book on Solzhentisyn.

In the second-hand book world, it’s not always easy to know when a book was published and there is a variety of reasons as to why a publisher may choose to withhold that date. Pirated and unauthorised copies of works were frequently issued without any publication details. And the books turned out by charismatic London publisher, Alec Flegon often appeared either with no date, or in the case of Dr Zhivago, with false publication details.

Alec Flegon, born Oleg Flegont in Bessarabia, arrived in London just after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. First working for the BBC in the Romanian Service, Flegon started his own press in Greek Street with the Russian literary magazine ‘Student’.

The subjects of his publications were unorthodox to say the least, and his methods even more so.  The range stretched from politically useful trade-directories and manuals smuggled out of the Soviet Union to scatological works and mild erotica.

Flegon became famous, even notorious, however, due to his publishing of Samizdat and smuggled literature from the Soviet Union. As well as connections in Russia, he had close connections with the émigré publishing houses Posev in Berlin and YMCA Press in Paris.  Although relations broke down later, in the early sixties he collaborated with these publishers’ to distribute major unpublished works hidden from the authorities in the Soviet Union and only really seeing the light of day in the West.

Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце), Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago and perhaps even more famously, Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Оди́н день Ива́на Дени́совича) all appeared under the Flegon imprint – and usually without a date and sometimes with false details.  Even more contentiously, he paid his authors no royalties.

Solzhenitsyn later took him to court although Flegon’s argument was always that he was helping to broadcast such literature for the greater good. The trial was famous – Felgon’s own account can be read in the self-published, A. Sozhentisyn: Myth & Reality (Flegon, 1986). A rollicking read, both wacky and scurrilous.


Marijana was born in Clyro, close to the Welsh book town of Hay-on-Wye, to English and Polish/Croatian parents. After studying Slavonic languages and culture in London and Zagreb and spending some ten years teaching English in Italy, Singapore and Vienna, she returned to her home area in 1989. With her love of books, language and cultural diversity, she was a natural choice to run the language department in Richard Booth’s huge secondhand bookshop in Hay.

Two years later, in 1991 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated. Being well aware of the rarity in the book-trade of her expertise in, and knowledge of, lesser-spoken languages, Eastern Europe and in particular the Balkans, she took the plunge into independence, setting up Marijana Dworski Books specifically for people who shared her enthusiasm for those subjects.

The business has now become the leading source for books on minority and lesser-spoken languages as well as books on Southeastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.

After 20 years in Hay, and faced with the decline in footfall in real shops, and in recognition of the global nature of her clientele, she reorganized her business as an exclusively on-line enterprise. No longer tied to a shop and shop hours, although primarily an on-line business, visitors are welcome to Unit 9, Broadaxe Business Park, Presteigne, LD8 2AD by prior appointment.

The change has allowed her to pursue yet another interest, in book-cover design.With her friend, Claire Keil, she is developing the books4looks business, which sees books as works of art in their own right, to be displayed as well as read. See www.books4looks.co.uk

Marijana and her family now live in the small Welsh border town of Presteigne with frequent visits throughout the year to the Dworski family home in Rijeka, Croatia.

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One thought on “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

  1. I just love Solzhenitsyn’s writing, much of it from his own life experience, so full of joy and hope in the most dire circumstances. For instance, Ivan finding happiness in an unexpected extra crust of black bread, or the fact that it was his turn to dry his felt boots on the overcrowded stove, so he could at least start off dry in the morning. Cancer Ward was the same, with a ward of terminally ill men who could still laugh, tell jokes, and find joy in the simplest of things.

    Liked by 1 person

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