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Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
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Life and Fate (1980)

by Vasily Grossman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,970643,445 (4.35)2 / 407
  1. 40
    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (chrisharpe)
  2. 51
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (chrisharpe, longway)
  3. 51
    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
    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)
  6. 20
    A Writer at War. Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945 by Vasily Grossman (chrisharpe)
  7. 31
    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (chrisharpe)
  8. 20
    The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth (christiguc)
  9. 21
    Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (chrisharpe)
  10. 21
    Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin by David King (MeisterPfriem)
  11. 00
    Generations of Winter by Vasily Aksyonov (DelphineM)
  12. 00
    Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt (Anonymous user)
  13. 00
    The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge (bibliopolitan)
  14. 00
    Front-line Stalingrad by Victor Nekrasov (chrisharpe)
  15. 11
    The Trial by Franz Kafka (gust)
  16. 00
    Chevengur by Andrej Platonov (gust)
  17. 11
    Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (chrisharpe)
  18. 01
    Blockade Diary by Lidiya Ginzburg (gust)
  19. 01
    Europe Central by William Vollmann (EnriqueFreeque)
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English (42)  Dutch (7)  Spanish (5)  French (3)  Italian (2)  Yiddish (2)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  All (64)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Magnificent, and a book that should have greater visibility and recognition. There is a natural comparison to ‘War and Peace’, and indeed, Grossman was said to have used Tolstoy’s masterpiece as a model for ‘Life and Fate’. There are similarities in both style and in content. The sheer scope of both books is grand, and take place during a failed invasion of Russia. Both have much more to them than military activities, and have rich casts of characters. Grossman occasionally folds in actual historical figures, generals and heads of state from each side, just as Tolstoy did. Where the novels differ mainly is in tone. There is a buoyancy and optimism to Tolstoy’s work – in the grand balls, in Pierre’s idealism, and in the love affairs between its characters. By contrast, Grossman’s novel is much darker, which I attribute to the events of the 20th century forcing a more grim realism. During Napoleon’s invasion, Russians were united under Alexander I – the repression under Nicholas I and the disillusionment and nihilism in its youth had not yet occurred – whereas during Hitler’s invasion, Russians had already gone through the great terror of 1937, and were constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of their own government, in addition to the Germans. There is a terrible sense of claustrophobia to this work – no place is safe when one little slip of the tongue can get you arrested and sent away. In ‘Life and Fate’, there are love affairs, but they are often tawdry one-night stands, frustrated, unrealized love, or tragic because someone has been unjustly imprisoned or killed.

Many say that Grossman put himself into the character of Viktor Shtrum, the theoretical physicist who makes a breakthrough on the inner workings of the atom, but is threatened by anti-Semitism, bureaucratic Soviet doctrine on science, association with family members who have run afoul of the State, or offhand comments he’s made in private. Like Grossman, Shtrum is attracted to the wife of his friend, and he loses his mother to the Holocaust when his own wife rebuffs his attempts to have her come and live with them. Like Grossman, he suffers from social awkwardness and self-doubt, wants most of all to be honest, but finds himself struggling between his conscience and the crushing power of the totalitarian State. One could say that Tolstoy is to Pierre as Grossman is to Viktor, and these characters represent the feel to the overall novel. Pierre is optimistic, philanthropic, philosophical; Viktor intelligent, wracked by guilt and angst, and weighed down by the darkness of the time period.

What I love about Grossman’s writing is his honesty and his humanity. He recognizes the heartbreaking moments in life and the pathos of a situation, and often ends his (relatively short) chapters in ways that arouse feeling. He understands human psychology in private and public moments. He was a Russian patriot and someone who believed in the principles of the Revolution, that workers should have rights and a share of the wealth, but saw that the Soviet State had shed these principles and was using its words in empty ways to perpetuate its right to absolute power. He condemned Fascism and the Holocaust, having lost his own mother and been one of the first writers to see and write about a concentration camp as a war correspondent when the Soviets swept west, but he saw the direct parallel to Stalin’s totalitarian State and the horrific purges of 1937. In the novel, he writes about all of these things with great clarity, and probes how such evil could be inflicted on nations – how people could be led into such things – through intimidation, making them complicit, and their tendency to be obedient.

There are many reviews out there that describe the novel as “sprawling” (I confess, dear reader of this perhaps ‘sprawling’ review, that if I see this over-used adjective used again, I may be ill) and confusing in its scope and the number of characters – but honestly, I found no such difficulty. Just think of it as a novel that’s about three times longer than an average novel, and figure if you read a book a week, this book may take you three weeks. It is helpful that this edition had a list of characters in the novel’s various settings in the back, so you may want to look for one that has that. The action does move around, but it’s not hard to follow the threads, and Grossman spends the right amount of time on each before moving to the next.

There are several excellent chapters that leave indelible images: Victor’s mother’s touching final letter to him, Yevgenia’s maddening (and funny) battles with bureaucracy to get a residence permit, Lyudmila’s visit to her son’s grave, and never truly coming to terms with his death, and the chilling meeting between a Russian prisoner (Mostovskoy) and the Gestapo commander of a concentration camp, who tries to make him see the similarities in their one-party states. There is also a stunning pamphlet on Good and Religion written by the ‘holy fool’ Ikonnikov-Morzh while imprisoned, a brilliant description of both horrifying inhumanity and complicity in the engineering and construction that went into building the gas chambers, and two German officers enjoying a plate of hors-d’oeuvres and wine on a small table placed in the center of one during their inspection. Later as Jews are herded into this chamber, Sofya having “adopted” a little boy, holding them as they’re killed like animals, clinically, as attendants peer through a window into the chamber.

There are also nice moments between Viktor and his beloved Marya, his friend’s wife; their sad meeting in the park, not acting on their love because they’re both married, and lastly, Viktor, after having finally been vindicated and seemingly having “made it”, still being pressured by the Party to sign a condemnation of the supposed killers of Gorky, one he doesn’t believe in, and yet not wanting to jeopardize his position.

Grossman’s audacity was to point out the fundamental errors of the Soviet Union. The error in Marxism of not understanding that Freedom had to be the basis, the foundation for communism, and without it the Revolution was meaningless. The error of Lenin thinking he was an internationalist, when in fact he “was creating the great nationalism of the twentieth century”. The error of putting Stalin in power after Lenin’s death, a man who “had never occupied a central position in the Party, who had never been highly thought of as a theoretician”, and who would then commit countless atrocities. The famine of 1921 having been followed up with the “man-made famine of 1930” (he doesn’t dwell on it, but look up ‘Holodomor’). The error of the party condemning not just aristocrats and the intelligentsia, but their descendants as well, and putting power and positions of importance into the hands of the ignorant and inept. The brutality and torture of investigations into those who were suspected of undermining the State on the merest whiff or phantom of insubordination; a single comment from years ago dooming one to a sentence of “ten years without the right of correspondence”, which invariably meant death. The error of Stalin misjudging Hitler’s intentions in 1941, to the point of shipping him trainloads of raw materials of strategic importance days before the outbreak of war.

Perhaps the biggest criticism, however, was showing the similarity of the Soviet state to the Nazis, which was of course anathema, as the Russians were rightfully proud of having defeated Hitler. Grossman does not flinch, for as he would say in another work, “Absolute truth is the most beautiful thing of all”, and I find it a message that is vitally important in these days of nationalism, xenophobia, and populism. He comments on the danger of not having a free press, and the use of the condemning label “enemy of the people” because someone holds dissenting views. He also points out the anti-Semitism and singling out of minorities as mirroring that in Germany. He also comments that doing “good” in the world sometimes truly means just that, but at other times people commit atrocities while deluded into thinking that they’re doing so in the name of some higher “good”. He shows us that both the Nazis and the Soviets had constructed arguments for themselves that allowed them to do what they did, rationalizing that the “ends justify the means”. All of these themes are highly relevant today.

And yet, despite all this darkness, Grossman believed in kindness and dignity, and he shows us the heroism and valor of the Soviets in defending Stalingrad during critical months of a massive battle in WWII. It may be true that he miscalculated what Stalin’s death in 1953 meant in terms of ability to criticize the Soviet Union, but I see courage, and a writer who had to be honest above all else. It’s a miracle the novel survived despite the legendary break-in to his house which had manuscripts and even typewriter ribbons confiscated, and it was a great joy to read it nearly 60 years later.

Quotes:
On death:
“A soul can live in torment for years and years, even decades, as it slowly, stone by stone, builds a mound over a grave; as it moves towards the apprehension of eternal loss and bows down before reality.”

“Her eyes – which had read Homer, Izvestia, Huckleberry Finn and Mayne Reid, that had looked at good people and bad people, that had seen the geese in the green meadows of Kursk, the stars above the observatory at Pulkovo, the glitter of surgical steel, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, tomatoes and turnips in the bins at market, the blue water of Issyk-Kul – her eyes were no longer any use to her. If someone had blinded her, she would have felt no sense of loss.”

On freedom, and individuality:
“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 rice, 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.”

And this one:
“…man has more freedom than protozoa. The whole evolution of the living world has been a movement from a lesser to a greater degree of freedom. This is the very essence of evolution – the highest being is the one which has the most freedom.”

On “good” and religion:
“The Christian view, five centuries after Buddhism, restricted the living world to which the concept of good is applicable. Not every living thing – only human beings. The good of the first Christians, which had embraced all mankind, in turn gave way to a purely Christian good; the good of the Muslims was now distinct.
Centuries passed and the good of Christianity split up into the distinct goods of Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy. And the good of Orthodoxy gave birth to the distinct goods of the old and new beliefs.
At the same time there was the good of the poor and the good of the rich. And the goods of the whites, the blacks, and the yellow races … More and more goods came into being, corresponding to each sect, race and class. Everyone outside a particular magic circle was excluded.
People began to realize how much blood has been spilt in the name of a petty, doubtful good, in the name of the struggle of this petty good against what it believed to be evil. Sometimes the very concept of good became a scourge, a greater evil than evil itself.”

On good and evil in man:
“We think we’re so wise – to us Hercules seems like a child with rickets. And yet on this very day the Germans are slaughtering Jewish children and old women as though they were mad dogs. And we ourselves have endured 1937 and the horrors of collectivization – famine, cannibalism, and the deportation of millions of unfortunate peasants … Once, everything seemed simple and clear. But these terrible losses and tragedies have confused everything. You say man will be able to look down on God – but what if he also becomes able to look down on the Devil? What if he eventually surpasses him? You say life is freedom. Is that what people in the camps think? What if the life expanding through the universe should use its power to create a slavery still more terrible than your slavery of inanimate matter? Do you think this man of the future will surpass Christ in his goodness? … What if he transforms the whole world into a galactic concentration camp? What I want to know is – do you believe in the evolution of kindness, morality, mercy? Is man capable of evolving that way?”

And this one:
“Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed – while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end.”

This little bit of humor:
“’You don’t look well,’ said Viktor. ‘That’s what’s called a Jewish compliment.’”

On infidelity:
“’You know,’ said Yevgenia, ‘an admirer of mine in Kuibyshev, Limonov, once gave me a definition of middle-aged love. He said it was a spiritual vitamin deficiency. A man lives for a long time with his wife and develops a kind of spiritual hunger – he’s like a cow deprived of salt, or an Arctic explorer who’s gone without vegetables for years on end. A man with a forceful, strong-willed wife begins to long for a meek, gentle soul, someone timid and submissive.’
‘This Limonov of yours sounds a fool,’ said Lyudmila.
‘What if a man needs several different vitamins – A, B, C, and D?’ asked Nadya.”

And this one:
“How could he unravel this tangle? How could his love for Marya Ivanovna be the truth of his life and at the same time be its greatest lie? Only last summer he had had an affair with the beautiful Nina. And they had done more than just walk round the square like schoolchildren who had fallen in love. But it was only now that he felt a sense of guilt and betrayal, a sense of having done wrong to his family.
All this consumed an incalculable amount of emotional and intellectual energy, probably as much as Planck had expended in elaborating his quantum theory.”

On kindness:
“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. Let’s begin with respect, compassion and love for the individual – or we’ll never get anywhere.”

On love that cannot be:
“One thing was plain: he had lost his peace of mind forever. Whatever happened, he would never know peace. Whether he hid his love for the woman beside him or whether it became his destiny, he would not know peace. Whether he was with her, feeling guilty, or whether he was apart from her, aching for her, he would have no peace.”

And this one:
“For a moment he thought he was about to fall down dead. He walked up and down the room. He looked again at the letter on his desk. It was like a white, sloughed-off skin that a viper had just crawled out of. He put his hand to his chest and his sides. The viper wasn’t there. It must have crawled inside him already. It must be burning his heart with poison.”

On religion:
“And what did this doctrine of peace and love bring to humanity? Byzantine iconoclasticism; the tortures of the Inquisition; the struggles against heresy in France, Italy, Flanders and Germany; the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism; the intrigues of the monastic orders; the conflict between Nikon and Avvakum; the crushing yoke that lay for centuries over science and freedom; the Christians who wiped out the heathen population of Tasmania; the scoundrels who burnt whole Negro villages in Africa. This doctrine caused more suffering than all the crimes of the people who did evil for its own sake…”

On robots, and future machines; how ahead of his time this passage was (though not anticipating Moore’s Law, he believed such a machine would be vast :)
“It is not impossible to imagine the machine of future ages and millennia. It will be able to listen to music and appreciate art; it will even be able to compose melodies, paint pictures, and write poems. Is there a limit to its perfection? Can it be compared to man? Will it surpass him?”

On Russia; I loved this poem one of the characters writes:
“Insane carefreeness
Wherever one looks.
The plains. Infinity.
The cawing of rooks.

Riots. Fires. Secrecy.
Obtuse indifference.
A unique eccentricity.
A terrible magnificence.”

On sorrow, from Pushkin:
“Past sorrow is to me like wine,
Stronger with every passing year.”

On the Soviet State:
“This new age needed only the hide of the Revolution – and this was being flayed off people who were still alive. Those who then slipped into it spoke the language of the Revolution and mimicked its gestures, but their brains, lungs, livers, and eyes were utterly different.”

And:
“There was something medieval about these accusations. Assassin-doctors! The murderers of a great writer, the last Russian classic! What was the purpose of such slanders? The Inquisition and its bonfires, the execution of heretics, witch-trials, boiling pitch, the stench of smoke … What did all this have to do with Lenin, with the construction of Socialism and the great war against Fascism?”

On sunset, and reflection:
“The light of evening can reveal the essence of a moment. It can bring out its emotional and historical significance, transforming a mere impression into a powerful image. The evening sun can endow patches of soot and mud with thousands of voices; with aching hearts we sense past joys, the irrevocability of loss, the bitterness of mistakes and the eternal appeal of hope.”

On totalitarian regimes:
“Experience showed that such campaigns make the majority of the population obey every order of the authorities as though hypnotized. There is a particular minority which actively helps to create the atmosphere of these campaigns: ideological fanatics; people who take a bloodthirsty delight in the misfortunes of others; and people who want to settle personal scores, to steal a man’s belongings or take over his flat or job. Most people, however, are horrified at mass murder, but they hide this not only from their families, but even from themselves. These are the people who filled the meeting-halls during the campaigns of destruction; however vast these halls or frequent these meetings, very few of them ever disturbed the quiet unanimity of the voting.”

“…in totalitarian countries, where society as such no longer exists, there can arise State anti-Semitism. This is a sign that the State is looking for the support of fools, reactionaries and failures, that it is seeking to capitalize on the ignorance of the superstitious and the anger of the hungry.”

On truth (and heroism):
“There is only one truth. There cannot be two truths. It’s hard to live with no truth, with scraps of truth, with a half-truth. A partial truth is no truth at all. Let the wonderful silence of this night be the truth, the whole truth … Let us remember the good in these men; let us remember their great achievements.” ( )
5 vote gbill | Aug 9, 2017 |
Well written but hard to abort cos too militaristic and full of Russian characters which were too hard to keep tabs on. Certainly describes the utter pointlessness of war and would like to have stayed with it.
  MarilynKinnon | Jan 28, 2015 |
Definitely sprawling. People unjustly accused of being against the State, being sent to prison, to Siberia... torture by means of piercing body organs, internal bleeding, blood curdling in the mouth... horrendous, sickening to the core. Me feeling sorry for the defeated, in this case, the Germans at Stalingrad, reduced to eating boiled horse meat. ( )
1 vote Lonsing | Nov 29, 2014 |
A magnificent multi-layered book centred on the battle for Stalingrad, this book captures the realities of Soviet life unflinchingly. Deservedly acclaimed. ( )
2 vote bodachliath | Nov 11, 2014 |
Historically interesting and written in a journalistic/cinematic style- but somewhat sprawling in plot- and personally there were only a few characters that really engaged me. Perhaps overrated as a modern classic. ( )
  Karl_Beech | Aug 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (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, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, RobertTranslatorsecondary 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.
Quotations
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
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.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099506165, Paperback)

Suppressed by the KGB, Life and Fate is a rich and vivid account of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.

On its completion in 1960, Life and Fate was suppressed by the KGB. Twenty years later, the novel was smuggled out of the Soviet Union on microfilm. At the centre of this epic novel looms the battle of Stalingrad. Within a world torn apart by ideological tyranny and war, Grossman’s characters must work out their destinies. Chief among these are the members of the Shaposhnikov family – Lyudmila, a mother destroyed by grief for her dead son; Viktor, her scientist-husband who falls victim to anti-semitism; and Yevgenia, forced to choose between her love for the courageous tank-commander Novikov and her duty to her former husband. Life and Fate is one of the great Russian novels of the 20th century, and the richest and most vivid account there is of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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)

» see all 3 descriptions

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