Vasily Grossman

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Vasily Grossman

1john257hopper
Maio 31, 2020, 7:17am

I read Life and Fate back in 2007 and loved it, and have just read Everything Flows. I have posted a review of it as follows:

This is a short powerful novel by the Soviet author more famous for his epic masterpiece Life and Fate set during the Second World War and the last years of Stalin. Even more than that masterpiece, this is a searing indictment of Soviet totalitarianism, and its roots in Russian history and culture. In many ways, it is not really a novel at all; while the characters are fictional, the situations are all too real. It is the mid 1950s and Ivan Grigoryevich returns to Moscow after 30 years in the Gulag during the mass release of prisoners in the comparatively more liberal period after Stalin's death. He is welcomed by his cousin Nikolai and the latter's wife, but they cannot understand his outlook and feelings, nor he theirs; it is though they are from different worlds. He also comes across Pinegin, who originally informed on him and who is shocked at Ivan's survival. Fleeing his cousin's flat in Moscow, he returns to his home city Leningrad and forms a brief attachment to his landlady Anna Sergeyevna, a former activist during collectivisation of agriculture in Ukraine in the early 1930s. There are some shocking passages in the book around the politically instigated famine of that time, and around the sufferings of wives of those arrested as "enemies of the people". All of this makes this book sound depressing and, of course, at many levels it is, but it also encapsulates Grossman's belief, expressed through Ivan, in the inevitable fundamental victory of human freedom. I would say that really to appreciate this book, the reader really needs a fairly detailed knowledge of Russian history and culture, and it is unlikely to appeal to the wider readership that the more narrative-driven Life and Fate does. But it is equally, though in a different way, a masterpiece of 20th century Russian and world literature.

2bjbookman
Jun 1, 2020, 8:06am

I only discovered Vasily Grossman a few years ago. Great review of his Everything Flows. Has you read his prequel to Life and Fate, Stalingrad?

3john257hopper
Jun 1, 2020, 5:23pm

>2 bjbookman:, no I haven't yet, though I did buy it the other day.

4languagehat
Jun 2, 2020, 4:22pm

I too consider Life and Fate a masterpiece of 20th century Russian and world literature; I reviewed it here:
https://themillions.com/2011/12/a-year-in-reading-stephen-dodson-languagehat-3.h...
I continue to wish the existing translation would get some competition. And I'm looking forward to reading the prequel, which I have on my groaning to-be-read shelf.

I also recommend the LARB article "Vasily Grossman: Myths and Counter-Myths" by Yury Bit-Yunan and Robert Chandler:
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/vasily-grossman-myths-and-counter-myths/?fbc...

Thanks for making this post; I was about ready to give up on the group, which seemed to have gone into permanent hibernation!

5kaggsy
Jun 3, 2020, 4:04am

>4 languagehat: Thanks for the LARB link - I had missed this!

6john257hopper
Jun 3, 2020, 8:34am

>4 languagehat: thanks for the link to your review. When I have got round to reading Stalingrad I will then no doubt need to re-read Life and Fate.

Thanks also for the LARB link. I also read a LARB article recently on Grossman's struggle with Soviet censors, though I can't seem to find it now.

8bjbookman
Jun 6, 2020, 8:25am

>4 languagehat: languages at: a good article of Grossman. Thanks for sharing.

9john257hopper
Jun 6, 2020, 9:41am

I'm currently reading John and Carol Garrard's biography of Grossman, which is very good, especially on his struggles with the literary bureaucracy and how he mirrored his personal relationships and experiences in Life and Fate in particular.

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