Ward Thirteen. Ward for cancer patients in a hospital in the Soviet Union’s provincial city of Tashkent. The inauspicious nature of the ward’s number “thirteen” is noted immediately by the first of the novel’s major characters, Pavel Nikolaievich Rusanov, although as a Communist Party member and atheist, he has never allowed himself to be superstitious.
The ward is a long, drab room with eight beds, each occupied by a cancer patient. The iron beds are narrow and creaky with thin mattresses that provide little comfort. Their occupants are a representative cross section of the ethnicities of the Soviet Union, including an Uzbek and a Kazakh, in addition to ethnic Russians. These men have also occupied a wide variety of positions in life, from prison guard to researcher. Rusanov regards having to share accommodations with such lowly persons an insult to his dignity and strives continually to get a private room, which he regards as his due as a party member.
In contrast, the novel’s other major character, former prisoner Oleg Kostoglotov, regards the ward’s meager accommodations as something to be fought for. Because he has come from his place of exile in a remote village, he has been able to call ahead to reserve a place for himself at the hospital. When he does arrive and is told no bed is available for him, he stretches out to sleep in the waiting room and refuses to leave until he is admitted.
Solzhenitsyn uses this setting and his...
(The entire section is 624 words.)