Page 7. " It was cold outside "

An indication of just how low the temperature could drop is given in the climate records for the nearby region of Tselinograd (today Astana, capital of Kazakhstan). In February 1951 the lowest recorded temperature was -32ºC.

Page 7. " his dry valenki "

Creative Commons AttributionValenki - Credit: akk_russ
The felt boots worn by Russians throughout the ages have become so much a part of the culture that they have even made their way into idiomatic usage: ‘Simple, like valenki’ (“Простой, как валенок”). Moscow boasts a museum dedicated purely to the exhibition and exposition of valenki.

Page 9. " Ivan was a thin, weedy, dark-eyed sergeant "


Soviet army sergeant
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumSoviet army sergeant - Credit: Grants Militaria

Sergeant insignia
Creative Commons AttributionSergeant insignia - Credit: F l a n k e r


Before the emergence of the Soviet Union, the Imperial Russian Table of Ranks was used; this was abolished in favour of the Soviet Union’s version. This underwent many changes up until the Second World War, when it was finally standardised and rationalised.


Page 10. " the lean figure of The Tartar "

By referring to this guard throughout as The Tartar, Solzhenitsyn depersonalises his character, thereby emphasising his relatively insignificant place in the Soviet machinery while at the same time distancing him from Shukhov and the other prisoners.

Page 13. " a former Hero of the Soviet Union "


This award was created in 1934 and given to individuals who had participated in heroic deeds in the form of the Order of Lenin and a certificate detailing the deed. Five years later, in 1939, the Gold Star medal was introduced to distinguish between those who were merely worthy of merit and those who had carried out truly heroic deeds. Extraordinary success in battle and participation in space, polar and underwater exploration were frequently rewarded with the Gold Star and title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Although the majority of the 11,635 total recipients were citizens of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro was among the list of foreigners to receive the title.

Page 14. " ‘Chetezes’ they called them, after the Cheliabinsk tractor works "

In Russian the tractor works is called Chelyabinskiy traktornyy zavod, hence the abbreviation of Che-te-ze.

Page 16. " a young man crossed himself. A West Ukranian, that meant… "

Orthodox sign of the cross
Creative Commons AttributionOrthodox sign of the cross - Credit: adriatikus
In 1939 the Eastern European region of Galicia (not to be confused with the autonomous region of Spain), including Western Ukraine, became part of the Soviet Union. Having never previously been a part of the Russian Empire, the population belonged not to the Russian Orthodox Church but to the Eastern Rite Catholic church. Although both branches of Christianity advocate making the sign of the cross, the Orthodox practice varies slightly from the Catholic open right palm, as illustrated in the image. Shukhov therefore recognised the new prisoner as a West Ukrainian due to the way he crossed himself.


Page 22. " on the banks of the River Lovat "

The River Lovat, 530km long, runs from the Lovatets Lake in northwestern Belarus into the Lake Ilmen in the northwestern Russian province of Novgorod.

Page 24. " rolling out the name and patronymic "

In Russia, the patronymic is formed from the name of the father – in the case of a male, the suffix -ovich/-yevich/-yich is added to the name; for a female the suffixes are –ovna/-yevna

Page 25. " ‘If you suffer, it must not be for murder…’ "

This quotation read aloud by Alyosha the Baptist comes from Peter 4: 15-16, and completely encapsulates his attitude towards his imprisonment in the labour camp - he eschews preoccupations about his physical situation and prays only about matters of the spirit.