With the publication of his short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962, Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn became the first to chronicle the crushing brutality of daily life in the Soviet Union's prison camps. Sentenced without trial to eight years forced labour and persecuted for years by the KGB, the Nobel prize-winning writer was a spiritual and moral authority for thousands of Russians until his death at the age of 89 in 2008.
But – dare I ask – do the harrowing details of his biography, and the weightiness of the tomes that he wrote, cause us to take Solzhenitsyn a little too seriously? Blinded by the big bushy beard and loose peasant's smock that gave him the aura of an Old Testament figure, it's easy to overlook the fact that Solzhenitsyn's lifelong ascetic tendencies, stretching long before and after his imprisonment, are almost as endearingly eccentric as they are admirable.
To mark 11 December's 100th anniversary of his birth, I decided to spend 24 hours in the life of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I'll never complain about Friday-night deadlines again.