...Than a mid-1950s cancer hospital in the middle of the Soviet Union? When I started Cancer Ward initially, I could not think of anything that would be more depressing. Solzhenitsyn actually lived through this experience and the novel draws in part on his experiences. As I learned from Wikipedia, this novel serves as a metaphor for the Soviet Union after Stalin. (Definitely wouldn't have figured that out on my own.)
I really found this book interesting, though, once I got into it. Yes, it was depressing, but the characters were really well written and I learned a lot reading about their experiences. I also found the book hopeful - many of the characters have goals that they intend to achieve, and their cancer is viewed as a minor obstacle along the way.
Russia has always interested me. I studied the language for a few years in high school and college (and retained very little of it, certainly not enough where I could read any of this novel in the original language). The history and the diversity of cultures there has always interested me as well.
Sometimes books like this leave me feeling depressed and sad, but not this one. I am very glad I read it. I learned a lot.