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LITERATURE The Book To Look (No. 31)

Posted by on 25. April 2012
Vasily Grossman

Grossmann in Red Army tunic at Stalingrad ...


... „Life and Fate (english) ...


... and in German

I tell you: When I finished the last page of this book (p. 887), I knew that I had indeed read the greatest Russian novel of the 20th century (that’s what „Le Monde“ called it). It’s breathtaking, entertaining, horrible, wonderful. Chapter 50 is the key to all major problems of the first half of the century, it pulls the veil from the „unspeakable“, it solves the mysteries surrounding the atrocities and attractions of Fascism and Communism – and you need some days of contemplation, until you are able to continue with chapter 51. Vasily Grossmann, a Ukrainian jew (1905-1964) was a war correspondent for the Red Army newspaper „Krasnaya Zezda“ and his novel „Life and Fate“ use the Battle of Stalingrad to describe all levels of society on both sides of the front, human misery and endurance, Germans and Russians in battle, the fate of ordinary people, the survival in war and peace, the burden of stupid party officials, the role of the women in times of lawlessness, the extinction of minorities, antisemitism on both sides, live in the prison camps and … – I could go on forever and can only compare „Life and Fate“ to Tolstoy’s „War and Peace“ and Solzhenitsyn’s „The Gulag Archipelago“. But now hear the story behind the story: Grossman finished the manuscript 1959, let his publisher know, the KGB came and confiscated it (and even the carbon ribbon from the author’s typewriter) and Grossman was told, that the book is so strongly against party policy that he might go to prison for it. This didn’t happen and fortunately two writer friends had photographed the draft pages, smuggled the photos to Switzerland and in 1980 „Life and Fate“ was published there – with a lot of mistakes, omissions and not in the final version, Grossman had wanted. But he was dead then for 16 years! 1989 the original manuscript emerged from the vaults of the KGB and „Life and Fate“ was finally published in Russia too. Believe me, friends, of you have the slightest intension to learn what happened from 1918 to 1948, probably the most important 30 years in history, you need Vasily Grossman, one of the greatest, vastly unknown writers of all time ….

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