I loved it, even though I didn't give it five stars. I didn't give it five because at the end I wasn't blown away or something. The end just comes kind of natural like you'd expect, because it's the end of the day. And you know that Ivan is kind of like an animal now, and all he has are days and he doesn't think too hard about the future because if he did, he would go crazy. I've heard that Gulag is a very depressing story, this one is kind of a downer, but not like Gulag, probably. You end up loving Ivan because even amidst this horrible, completely undeserved sentence, he still has a heart and exhibits altruistic behavior.
Sometimes Solzhenitsyn's writing reminds me of Salinger, and I liked that. At times he would speak from this place of "the prisoners, the men" and show their rage at other prisoners who were messing things up for everyone else, or their rage at the injustice and stupidity of the warders. All you can think through the whole book is about how cold it is. Obviously the cold is a strong character, the main element shaping their lives, even stronger than the bastard communist government.
There were loads of things I liked about this story. I like Solzhenitsyn's writing style, although I have to admit I feel weird saying that, knowing he himself was a prisoner and this book was derived from that experience. But it's true, he's a good writer. I ended up liking Ivan, and pretty much all the characters except for Fetyukov, who we're not supposed to like because he's a vulture and a wimp.
I will probably read more of his books because of his skill with words. My big regret is that I can't read Russian and of all possible languages I would choose to learn for the sake of literature, Russian is the language I want to know. I checked it out and Rosetta Stone costs like a million dollars. I'm 30 and my brain is set in stone. Is there any hope?