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Diseased Politics and Politicized Disease

Cancer Ward, first published in 1968. On the surface, the novel is a slice of life story set in a hospital. The semi-autobiographical central character, Oleg, is surrounded by an array of other patients undergoing treatments, mostly ineffective, for a terrifying disease. The nurses and doctors are overwhelmed, managing their frustrations with a mix of bravado and despair. The only true victor in the novel is cancer.

But the book is also a metaphor for society. Solzhenitsyn designed the metaphor to capture what was happening in the Soviet Union. But the book can also help us examine American society in the Age of COVID. Solzhenitsyn helps us understand the answer to a question that has surely crossed many minds since 2020: how did a biological disease turn into a political battle?

Society’s Cancer

At first, the book’s metaphor seems fairly straightforward. Cancer is a disease affecting many patients. Doctors and

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