I hestitated giving this book 5 stars because, although it is amazing, there were parts of it I didn't enjoy that much. The story starts out simply enough: Ivan Grigoyevich is released from Gulag after 30 years. The novel takes us though his story, his cousin's (who doesn't agree with the regime but is too worried about his career to speak out), his lover (an activist in the Ukraine during the famine there in the 30s). We also see viewpoints from various characters who turn their friends/co-workes/families in. We see things from the viewpoint of a woman whose husband is arrested and mostly likely shot. She also ends up in a forced labour camp. These are the fascinating stories, as is Ivan's new life outside of Gulag and his adjustment to freedom. Or what passes for freedom under Soviet rule. There are also chapters on Stalin and Lenin, but these read more like essays or verdicts on the two leaders. These weakened the story for me. Nonetheless, this is a great book giving a great series of snapshots of lives in the Soviet Union.