Mrs Puddicombe, my school teacher, liked us to read good books. ‘It will improve your vocabulary and your spelling’, she would say.
Mrs Puddicombe was particularly fond of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It was the mid-1970s and Solzhenitsyn’s opposition to Soviet Communism probably fitted well with her evangelical Christian views.
Solzhenitsyn was certainly an interesting figure; the problem was that he wrote books that were very, very long for a fifteen year old used more to Alistair MacLean adventure novels.
I finally found a Solzhenitsyn book I could tackle, it was about a quarter of the size of the rest, ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch’. The title summed up the book. It was one day in the life of a prisoner in the deprivation, monotony and violence of the sort of camp where the Communists put those who disagreed with them.
Nothing really happens in the story, but, thirty years later, I still remember being drawn into the reality of this daily existence and actually feeling a sense of delight when Ivan Denisovitch manages to secure an extra slice of black bread, which he hides in the mattress of his bed in order to eat it at a time when he would be able to savour it. An extra slice of dry black bread seemed like a very special feast in the circumstances of a labour camp.
The story of the reality of what Solzhenitsyn experienced in the labour camp made me see him in a very different light. When we hear people’s stories, our hearts are changed.
If our Government here in Dublin would listen to the stories of the reality of the lives of those who have fled here in hope of a better life, perhaps their hearts would be changed.
In the book of the Old Testament prophet Joel, even God changes his mind. Perhaps the Minister of Justice, Michael McDowell, would read his Bible sometimes.