Cancer Ward (Russian: Раковый Корпус, Rakovy Korpus) is a semi-autobiographical novel by Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature. Completed in 1966, the novel was distributed in Russia that year in samizdat, and banned there the following year. In 1968 several European publishers published it in Russian, and in April 1968 excerpts in English appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in the UK without Solzhenitsyn's permission. An unauthorized English translation was published that year, first by The Bodley Head in the UK, then by Dial Press in the US.
Cancer Ward tells the story of a small group of patients in Ward 13, the cancer ward of a hospital in Soviet Central Asia in 1955, two years after Joseph Stalin's death. A range of characters are depicted, including those who benefited from Stalinism, resisted or acquiesced. Like Solzhenitsyn, the main character, the Russian Oleg Kostoglotov, spent time in a labour camp as a "counter-revolutionary" before being exiled to Central Asia under Article 58.
The story explores the moral responsibility of those implicated in Stalin's Great Purge (1936–1938), when millions were killed, sent to camps or exiled. One patient worries that a man he helped to jail will seek revenge, while others fear that their failure to resist renders them as guilty as any other. "You haven't had to do much lying, do you understand? ..." one patient tells Kostoglotov. "You people were arrested, but we were herded into meetings to 'expose' you. They executed people like you, but they made us stand up and applaud the verdicts ... And not just applaud, they made us demand the firing squad, demand it!"
Toward the end of the novel, Kostoglotov realizes that the damage done was too great, that there will be no healing now that Stalin has gone. As with cancer, there may be periods of remission but no escape. On the day of his release from the hospital, he visits a zoo, seeing in the animals people he knew: "[D]eprived of their home surroundings, they had lost the idea of rational freedom. It would only make things harder for them, suddenly to set them free."