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Life and Fate (1980)

by Vasily Grossman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,457734,177 (4.36)2 / 445
A book judged so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only the manuscript but the ribbons on which it had been typed were confiscated by the state, Life and Fate is an epic tale of World War II and a profound reckoning with the dark forces that dominated the twentieth century. Interweaving an account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia, Vasily Grossman fashions an immense, intricately detailed tapestry depicting a time of almost unimaginable horror and even stranger hope. Life and Fate juxtaposes bedrooms and snipers' nests, scientific laboratories and the Gulag, taking us deep into the hearts and minds of characters ranging from a boy on his way to the gas chambers to Hitler and Stalin themselves. This novel of unsparing realism and visionary moral intensity is one of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.… (more)
  1. 71
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (chrisharpe, longway)
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    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (chrisharpe)
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    The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (LilianaL, chrisharpe)
  4. 30
    Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: Grossman reminds me of Malaparte. Less black humor than Malaparte but the same emphasis on the brief scene that illuminates a larger canvas. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that both were journalists.
  5. 30
    A Writer at War. Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945 by Vasily Grossman (chrisharpe)
  6. 30
    The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth (christiguc)
  7. 30
    Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: Both are books about individuals under repressive regimes, set during WWII, by authors who lived through the circumstances they write about. Although both works are "fiction", the authority of each writer is plainly stamped on each novel. The subject matter may be grim, and the detail uncompromising, but the characters' humanity shines through to make these uplifting reads.… (more)
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    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (chrisharpe)
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    Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin by David King (MeisterPfriem)
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    Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (chrisharpe)
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    Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt (Anonymous user)
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English (49)  Dutch (7)  Spanish (6)  French (4)  Yiddish (2)  Italian (2)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (73)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
In the back of Life and Fate, there is a vital guide that lists all of the "chief" characters with brief descriptions of who they are. How many characters are considered "chief" by the translator? 154. In case you weren't aware, that's a large number. I'm not even sure I could make up 154 names, let alone put them all in one of the greatest stories ever written.

But what makes Life and Fate so special is not the quantity of characters; it's the quality and depth of all 154 of them. I don't want to claim that this is an easy read. There is a Klimov, a Krymov, and a Krylov, and they're all present in the same area at the same time in the novel. Thankfully, though, every soldier is so distinct that you quickly pick up on their individual thoughts and motivations to the point that Klimov, Krymov, and Krylov are as different as Stalin and Hitler.

Vasily Grossman had many gifts as a writer, the greatest of which might have been his clarity of thought. Drawing on his experience writing for the Red Army newspaper as a war correspondent, Grossman creates scenes that are both concise and expressive. In over 850 pages (keep in mind Grossman was never able to do a final edit of the manuscript), there is not a single wasted word.

The best scenes in the book, unfortunately, come from Grossman's own difficult experiences. The gut-wrenching letter that Viktor receives from his mother is similar to the one Grossman received from his own mother, who died in the Holocaust. The horrors of the Battle of Stalingrad are written in such incredible detail because Grossman was there on the front lines, forced to be a witness to it all. And the gas chamber scene, which is up there with the greatest passages I've ever read, comes from what he saw at the Treblinka extermination camp. Grossman's original account of what he encountered at Treblinka was used at the Nuremberg trials, and recognizing how much he knew about the ugly process in the gas chambers adds an extra heavy layer on top of what is already difficult to read.

Comparisons to War and Peace are inevitable, especially with a title like Life and Fate. Each book's length, scope, and cast give the reader plenty to chew on. There are harrowing battle scenes balanced out with deeply personal trials. And, of course, there's the famous moralizing.

When people don't like War and Peace, it usually has something to do with Tolstoy philosophizing all over the place, so I'd bet they would have the same complaint about Grossman. But I for one didn't mind it at all with Tolstoy, and I was a huge fan of what Grossman had to say. Take this: Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.I love the way Grossman takes an idea that would have gotten him executed had he shared it before Stalin's death and makes it feel so self-evident. It's a brave statement that's repeatedly reflected in the journeys of all his characters, whether they realize it or not.

It's hard not to admire just how much went into getting this book published. When Grossman first submitted it to Soviet censors in 1959, the book was arrested and everything he possessed that was even remotely related to the book was destroyed. Luckily, he had taken the precaution of giving two extra copies to acquaintances for safekeeping, and in 1974, ten years after Grossman's death, a group of Soviet dissidents including my boy Vladimir Voinovich (go read The Ivankiad) was able to smuggle pictures of every page of the book out of the country. Life and Fate was a deeply personal book for Grossman, and it hurts to know that he never saw it published and likely died believing it never would be, but the more people there are that read a novel like this, the less likely our world is to keep the next Life and Fate under wraps, and that, at least, is something to be happy about.

This is the book I wanted Doctor Zhivago to be. It's a thoughtful denunciation of Stalin's USSR with intelligent, sympathetic characters on every side (even a Nazi or two!) that also happens to be a great story. Vasily Grossman might not have fit the image of a great Russian writer (he certainly didn't have the beard or the for penchant for melodrama), but Life and Fate belongs in the pantheon of Russian literature right there with the tomes of the 19th century. There's no better way to learn about life in the Soviet Union than to read this and see just what it meant to "live your life for the Party." I'll give you a hint: it wasn't much fun. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
See NYRB review by Gary Saul Morson "In Search of an Honest Man" NYRB October 10,2019
  ddonahue | Oct 13, 2019 |
This review was constructed while drinking. Pub Guinness veered into Sierra Nevada Torpedo at home. Yo La Tengo kept pushing immediate questions: why not, why not? Why isn't Life and Fate a fucking rock star on goodreads?

Apparently such matters don't work in translation, well, unless it is Murakami or Bolano. I do find that rather akimbo, disjointed silences on germans and russians while YAs run amok. I did note that TWO of my coworkers are reading 50 Shades.

No, the novel isn't a streamlined masterpiece, but it bleeds, it carries the smoked stench of someone who was there. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
In this masterpiece Grossman presents the Soviet and Russian experience through the filter of his own life, both the bravery he displayed and the moments of weakness, such as when he accepted to accuse colleagues of imaginary crimes in a letter of denunciation. The chapters move between the heroic defense of Stalingrad; the German prisoner of war camps in which old Bolsheviks mull over what went wrong up to and including the Stalinist show trials of 1937, and Soviet POWs are continually encouraged to join up with Vlasov, the renegade Russian general who fought alongside the Germans; life in the Soviet Gulag; and the Hitlerian concentration camps, in which Grossman provides a harrowing level of detail of Jewish death based on Grossman's own experience of being the first journalist into Treblinka.

The main character, Victor Shtrum, is at one and the same time a valued member of the Soviet Union and a man who knows that from one minute to the next his work and everything he holds dear can be stripped away from him by the secular religion of Stalinism and its violent and torturing priests in the shape of NKVD interrogators who believe, in the manner of the Inquisition, that the end justifies the means if it saves a Soviet soul from deviationism or the wrong nationalist feeling. Shtrum is a scientist, a non-believing Jew in a climate of Soviet anti-Antisemitism, who feels guilty for his mother's death in the ghetto, a woman who had also never considered herself as a Jew, just as a doctor. He also feels guilty for his wife's attitude towards his mother when she was still alive. He is also a patriotic Russian with marital problems, who falls in love with his best friend's wife, as he lives through the heady experience of freedom which Stalin had to allow among Russian scientists and his officer corps (who nevertheless had to live under the fault-picking eyes of the Political Commissars to whom all regular soldiers were subordinated) if he wished to beat Hitler's Germans back to Berlin, beginning with heroic last-ditch defenses such as that in Stalingrad.

The novel is nearly a thousand pages long and Soviet censorship meant that it was never published in Grossman's own life time. Even towards the end it can sometimes be difficult to know how the characters are connected to each other, but the effort of hanging in there is amply repaid. It is best to know something of Russian, Soviet and German 1930s to 1950s history before plunging into the book. A good place to find that history is in Timothy Snyder's recent [b:Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin|6572270|Bloodlands Europe Between Hitler and Stalin |Timothy Snyder|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328843543s/6572270.jpg|6765357] ( )
1 vote JohnJGaynard | Dec 31, 2018 |
3.5 stars.

This 900-page epic about the World War 2 era in the USSR includes dozens of characters, military and civilian, free and imprisoned, Soviet and German, and Grossman draws dangerous parallels between two oppressive systems. Many characters fight for the city of Stalingrad. Others are physicists. Others are held in the Lubyanka prison or German concentration camps.

Sometimes Life and Fate felt so sprawling or crowded that I thought Grossman should have written several novels instead of trying to force all his people and ideas into one book. But there is a nucleus: the Jewish physicist Viktor Shtrum, who struggles with “spiritual entropy” as Soviet science and society become increasingly politicized. Viktor and his wife Liudmila connect, with various degrees of separation, to most of the novel’s other characters through family ties.

Shtrum’s spiritual entropy and intense loneliness as he struggles with his own moral decisions and fate as a theoretical scientist left an overwhelming impression, too. Observing the effects of fear, acceptance, and relief on his actions was not easy – these sections centering around the egocentric Shtrum were both emotional and a little drawn-out – but I added more depth to my readings of the psychology of professional and personal survival during the Stalin era.

My overall feelings about Life and Fate are mixed: in spite of some beautifully composed scenes and interesting characters, the hundreds of chapters don’t always quite hold together, and some of the dozens of characters inevitably felt a little stereotypical or unnuanced.

There's more on my blog at: "World War 2, Life, Fate, and Spiritual Entropy" ( )
1 vote LizoksBooks | Dec 15, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Originaltittel: Zjizn i sudba / Liv og skjebne;

Vasilij Grossman; Steinar Gil (Oversetter)

Omtale:



Romanen er en skildring av forholdene på Østfronten under annen verdenskrig, og om kommunistregimet etter nazistenes fall. I sentrum for handlingen står en russisk-jødisk fysiker og hans familie. Boken er skrevet av krigsreporteren Vasilij Grossman som var øyevitne under kampene om Stalingrad. © DnBB AS

Fra bokomslaget:



Liv og skjebne er en storslagen skildring om en verden som faller sammen - under slaget om Stalingrad. Krigsreporteren Vasilij Grossman var øyenvitne under kampene om Stalingrad - med førstehånds kunnskap om det som skjedde. I fortellingens sentrum står den russiske familien Sjaposjnikov som blir spredd for alle vinder: En ung gutt på vei til gasskammeret, en fysiker som presses til "de korrekte" vitenskapelige resultater og en mor som leter etter sønnen hun har mistet. Dette er noen av de skjebner som tilsammen skaper det store bildet. Etter at Stalingrad endelig befris fra nazistene, oppdager mange mennesker at de nå lever under et annet redselsregime: Kommunistene. Grossman skildrer de ufattelige forholdene på Østfronten, der menneskenes lengsel etter friheten er sterkere enn alt annet. Manuskriptet til boken ble i sin tid beslaglagt av KGB, men smuglet ut til vesten. Denne boken er et "must" for alle som leste Antony Beevors bestselger Stalingrad.
 

» Add other authors (68 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grossman, Vasilyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adrian, EsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ballestrem, Madeleine vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Björkegren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Czech, JerzyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nitschke, AnneloreÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rebon, MartaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slofstra, FroukjeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zonghetti, ClaudiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Opgedragen aan mijn moeder Jekaterina Saveljevna Grossman
Посвящается моей матери
Екатерине Савельевне Гроссман
This book is dedicated to my mother, Yekaterina Savelievna Grossman
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There was a low mist. You could see the glare of headlamps reflected on the high-voltage cables beside the road.
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But Chekhov said: let's put God, and all these grand progressive ideas, to one side. Let's begin with man. Let's be kind and attentive to the individual man - whether he's a bishop, a peasant, an industrial magnate, a convict in the Sakhalin islands or a waiter in a restaurant ... That's democracy, the still unrealised democracy of the Russian people.
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Жизнь и судьба
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A book judged so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only the manuscript but the ribbons on which it had been typed were confiscated by the state, Life and Fate is an epic tale of World War II and a profound reckoning with the dark forces that dominated the twentieth century. Interweaving an account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia, Vasily Grossman fashions an immense, intricately detailed tapestry depicting a time of almost unimaginable horror and even stranger hope. Life and Fate juxtaposes bedrooms and snipers' nests, scientific laboratories and the Gulag, taking us deep into the hearts and minds of characters ranging from a boy on his way to the gas chambers to Hitler and Stalin themselves. This novel of unsparing realism and visionary moral intensity is one of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.
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Editions: 1590172019, 1590176545

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