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Vasily Grossman (1905–1964)

Author of Life and Fate

53+ Works 7,047 Members 194 Reviews 42 Favorited

About the Author

Grossman, a graduate in physics and mathematics from Moscow University, worked first as a chemical engineer and became a published writer during the mid-1930s. His early stories and novel deal with such politically orthodox themes as the struggle against the tsarist regime, the civil war, and the show more building of the new society. Grossman served as a war correspondent during World War II, publishing a series of sketches and stories about his experiences. Along with Ehrenburg, he edited the suppressed documentary volume on the fate of Soviet Jews, The Black Book. In 1952 the first part of his new novel, For the Good of the Cause, appeared and was sharply criticized for its depiction of the war. The censor rejected another novel, Forever Flowing (1955), which was circulated in samizdat and published in the West. The secret police confiscated a sequel to For the Good of the Cause, the novel Life and Fate, in 1961, but a copy was smuggled abroad and published in 1970. Grossman's books were issued in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and have met with both admiration and, on part of the nationalist right wing, considerable hostility. (Bowker Author Biography) show less


Works by Vasily Grossman

Life and Fate (1984) 3,428 copies
Everything Flows (1970) 856 copies
Stalingrad (1952) 656 copies
The Road (1998) 397 copies
An Armenian Sketchbook (1998) 248 copies
The People Immortal (1942) 97 copies
La cagnetta (2013) 13 copies
Brieven aan mijn moeder (2011) 12 copies
Oeuvres (2006) 8 copies
Ucraina senza ebrei (2023) 8 copies
Las buenas compañías (2011) 7 copies
Fosforo (1991) 5 copies
Que el bien os acompañe (2019) 5 copies
Bem Hajam! (2014) 5 copies
La Madonna a Treblinka (2007) 3 copies
In the Town of Berdichev (2007) 3 copies
2007 2 copies
No Beautiful Nights (1944) 1 copy
Peur (2006) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Penguin Book of Hell (2018) — Contributor — 184 copies
Great Soviet Short Stories (1962) — Contributor — 77 copies
Granta 145: Ghosts (2018) — Contributor — 49 copies
Der Irrtum. Russische Erzählungen. (1999) — Contributor — 6 copies
Moderne russische Erzähler — Author — 2 copies


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Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Grossman, Vasily
Legal name
Grossman, Vasily Semyonovich
Гроссман, Василий Семёнович
Date of death
Burial location
Troyekurovskoye Cemetery Moscow, Russia
Country (for map)
Berdichev, Ukraine, Russian Empire
Place of death
Moscow, Soviet Union
Places of residence
Moscow, Soviet Union
Geneva, Switzerland
Kiev, Ukraine, Soviet Union
Moscow State University
war correspondent
chemical engineer
Red Star (Krasnaya Zvezda)
Awards and honors
Red Banner of Labor
Short biography
Born in the Ukraine in 1905, Vasilly Grossman published his first novel 'Stepan Gluchkauf 'in 1933. Grossman was Jewish and his place of birth was one of the largest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Grossman is most notable for his work as a journalist during WWII and his eyewitness accounts of the fall of Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin and the Holocaust. He published the first account of a German death camp written by a journalist. He went on to publish a novel about Stalingrad in 1952 called "For a Just Cause" and in 1960 "Life and Fate".



Life and Fate featured on BBC R4 in Fans of Russian authors (September 2011)
Life and Fate: Part 1 in Group Reads - Literature (November 2009)


I've had The People Immortal on the TBR since it was first published in translation in 2022, but I only got round to reading it now because, thinking it was a new title by Grossman, I borrowed the library copy that was on display... before realising that I had borrowed a book that I've already got...

(Conversely, I borrowed a library copy of Gail Jones' new novel One Another and was about half way through when I realised I had to have my own copy, and I bought it this week at Benn's Bookshop where I met up for the first time with Jennifer from Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large.)

It's difficult to write about novels of war at this time. There is a proxy war of attrition between the US and Russia, and there is asymmetrical warfare in the Middle East, both of these wars causing suffering on all sides, and neither of them are being objectively reported by independent war correspondents. The People Immortal is to some extent a work of propaganda too, although unlike the journalists reporting on the current conflicts, Grossman was 'on the ground' reporting for the Red Star, and he spoke the lingua franca of the soldiers among whom he travelled. And although there were constraints on what he could publish, he wrote about the realities of war, with tenderness and clarity emerging from his first hand experience among ordinary people.

(Soviet war correspondents were not the only ones constrained by wartime censorship. John Steinbeck's brilliant Once There was a War begins with a piece written from a troopship travelling to an unknown destination, which we now know was heading for the D-day landings. But Steinbeck did not have to fear his political leaders in the way that Grossman did, see my review of An Armenian Sketchbook.)

FWIW the bestselling (i.e. populist) British historian Antony Beevor has a very high opinion of Grossman's war reportage. He has even edited a translation by Dr. Lyubov Vinogradov of Grossman's A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941–1945. The blurb at Goodreads describes it as a vivid eyewitness account of the Eastern Front and 'the ruthless truth of war.'

The 'ruthless truth' was that in 1941, a poorly prepared Russia was reeling from Hitler's breach of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact. You only have to watch a couple of episodes of the documentary Soviet Storm on YouTube with its helpful maps to see how rapidly the German invasion over-ran the Soviets, occupying vast swathes of Soviet territory all the way to the outskirts of Moscow. (The post-Soviet Russian-made Soviet Storm is also a work of propaganda, but it's a useful corrective to the Cold War propaganda that WW2 was won on D-Day. It acknowledges the catastrophic losses and the suffering, and it also identifies Stalin's purges of military leaders and disastrous decisions by the Stavka, and acknowledges Lend Lease and other allied contributions.)

Grossman's novel, published in the early stages of the war, is about a group of soldiers who were part of the thousands trapped in a massive German encirclement, summarised in the blurb like this:
Set during the catastrophic first months of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, this is the tale of an army battalion dispatched to slow the advancing enemy at any cost, with encirclement and annihilation its promised end.

Writing even at this early stage of the war, Grossman saw the scale of the conflict:
In vain do poets make out in song that the names of the dead will live forever. In vain do they write poems assuring dead heroes that they continue to live, that their memory and names are eternal. In vain do thoughtless writers make such claims in their books, promising what no soldier would ever ask them to promise. Human memory simply cannot hold thousands of names. He who is dead is dead. Those who go to their death understand this. A nation of millions is now going out to die for its freedom, just as it used to go out to work in field and factory. (p.150)

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2024/04/01/the-people-immortal-1942-by-vasily-grossman-...
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Vision de la URSS en los anhos 30 y 40.
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Excelente novela sobre la URSS en el periodo alrededor de la segunda guerra mundial.
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