One month down, eleven to go. I have decided to narrow down my monthly reading to the single book I would most highly recommend. For January 2011, that book is Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I will warn you– this is not a book to be taken lightly. As you might have guessed from the title, it can be a bit depressing at times. Loosely based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experience with cancer in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, Cancer Ward follows the life of Oleg Kostoglotov as he undergoes treatment in a regional cancer clinic. Kostoglotov is a political exile who has spent his entire adult life in the Soviet army and a prison camp. Through his interactions with other patients (including an arrogant Soviet bureaucrat) and the clinic staff, we are given a glimpse of the complex dynamics that governed all facets of Soviet life. Solzhenitsyn’s reflections on the nature of life and death transcend the Soviet setting and speak to readers from any culture. Despite the dark subject matter, this book is ultimately hopeful in the face of all possible resistance. Solzhenitsyn deserves to be considered one of the greatest authors of the modern era. His characters are full of life, even when facing down death. This is a book that will stay with you for a very long time.