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Everything Flows (1970)

by Vasily Grossman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7583421,917 (4.15)71
Everything Flows is the last novel by Vasily Grossman, written after the Soviet authorities suppressed his extraordinary epic of besieged Stalingrad, and the besieged modern soul, Life and Fate. The central story is simple yet moving: Ivan Grigoryevich, the hero, is released after thirty years in the Soviet camps and has to struggle to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar world. This story, however, provides only the bare bones of a work written with prophetic urgency and in the shadow of death. Interspersing Ivan's story with a variety of other stories and essays and even a miniature play, Grossman writes boldly and uncompromisingly about Russian history and the 'Russian soul,' about Lenin and Stalin, about Moscow prisons in 1937, and about the fate of women in the Gulag, and in the play he subtly dramatizes the pressures that force people to compromise with an evil regime. His chapter about the least-known act of genocide of the last century-the Terror Famine that led to the deaths of around five million Ukrainian peasants in 1932 - 33-is unbearably lucid, comparable in its power only to the last cantos of Dante's Inferno.… (more)
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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. ( )
  john257hopper | May 31, 2020 |
The landlady Anna Sergeyevna, while sharing her experience in the Ukraine during the Holodomor, laments on the fate of the village in which she had worked, a village that became a ghost town."And nothing is left of all that. Where can that life have gone? And that suffering, that terrible suffering? Can there really be nothing left? Is it really true that no one will be held to account for it all? That it will all just be forgotten without a trace?"When writing those words in Everything Flows, Vasily Grossman must have felt that his fate would be a similar one, that he and his work would just disappear. Grossman died in 1964, just two years after his novel Life and Fate, his masterpiece, had been seized by the KGB. Grossman had been told that the book couldn't be published for two or three hundred years.

His response to the government's refusal to publish Life and Fate was an absolute haymaker, a dynamic condemnation of the State and everything it stood for. He was still revising Everything Flows when he died, but I can't imagine why.

Grossman writes about human suffering like no other writer. He details what you think is the full story of some tragic event, and then he drops in a snapshot of a young woman, a group of small children, a tight-knit family that becomes so immediately crucial to your understanding of the narrative that you'd have thought they were part of the story all along.

I saw in the comments of another review a comparison between this book and Camus' The Plague and when I zoomed out, I got the connection. Human response to suffering is a key theme in both, and both have interesting takes on communal reactions to crises. The difference is that Camus wrote a book full of detached observations and thin anecdotes, while Grossman felt and wrote in tandem with the anguish of his subjects and imprinted on the reader's brain the faces of those in pain.

I wrote in my review of Life in Fate about a scene (in a gas chamber) that I called one of the best passages in all of literature. Well, Everything Flows has one too. Anna Sergeyevna's account of the Holodomor, the famine in the Ukraine that killed five million people in 1932-33, is immediately followed by the story of Vasily Timofeyevich and his family. I don't mean to give any of it away, but I've never before been moved by a book the way I was by that one-two punch.

That part of the story deals with the suffering of victims. But Grossman doesn't only understand the victims of Stalin's USSR. He also wonderfully portrays the complicated men and women who, consciously or not, benefitted from the State. From an American perspective, it's easy to make a case against the Soviet Union. I grew up with it all around me. What was never presented to me was a case for the Soviet Union. If we want to keep such a power from existing again in our world, we have to understand why it came about and why it persisted, with countless citizens buying in every step of the way. It wasn't all just indoctrination and fear, and Grossman explains this through the eyes of many of his characters and in his direct reproaches of Lenin and Stalin towards the end of the novel.

I have yet to mention the protagonist, Ivan Grigoryevich, even once so far. That's partially due to his function throughout much of the novel as a catalyst for the people he meets. Their reactions to seeing him, rather than anything he says, lead to much of book's insight. But what's greatest about Ivan Grigoryevich is what's also greatest about the novel: an unshakeable belief in freedom.

Despite its heavy subject matter, this is not a depressing read. Ivan Grigoryevich, just now free after spending 30 years in Soviet labor camps, finds power in the endurance of freedom that he doesn't see in anything else. No matter how vast the skyscraper and powerful the cannon, no matter how limitless the power of the State, no matter how mighty the empire, all this is only mist and fog and -as such- will be blown away. Only one true force remains; only one true force continues to evolve and live; and this force is liberty. Grossman had plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future of the Russian people, but he believed that the progress of the world and the progress of human liberty were tightly linked, and as a result, someday, the State would fall to the power of freedom.

At the end of his introduction, translator Robert Chandler hits the nail on the head. For all the pain gathered within it, Everything Flows is a gift, Grossman's last gift to the world. And one of the most precious understandings it embodies is that if we can speak truthfully and trustingly, our histories can cease to be burdens. Any story, truly told and truly listened to, can become a gift. Vasily Grossman has truly told his story, and anyone who truly listens to it will understand what a gift it is. ( )
1 vote bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
The "hero" of this novel returns to the big cities of Russia after being freed from the Goulag in the 1950s. He makes the rounds of some of his old friends, who had all submitted to the regime, in one way or another. When they see the "hero", they feel embarrassed at the way they had behaved or gone along with the denunciations of friends and colleagues. The "hero" eventually finds a job working in a factory. He falls in love with a kind, simple woman, who shares with him her own shame at working with the regime and being partly responsible for the killing of the Koulaks in the Ukraine. Their joy together does not last long. The end of the novel turns into a description of the last days of Stalinism, in an attempt to understand why people participate actively in a totalitarian system, and a disquisition on the importance of freedom. ( )
  JohnJGaynard | Dec 31, 2018 |
Everything Flows feels like the unfinished novel that it is... but it contains some beautifully composed passages about terrible episodes in Soviet history. The ending and the section about famine in Ukraine were particularly good.

The main thread of the book is about a man, a former political prisoner who has been released after 30 years in the camps, who has difficulty adjusting to life outside prison. The book's narrative thread is often interrupted: there are even essays about history and freedom that almost give the book the feel of a seminar on Soviet totalitarianism. Grossman manages to say a lot in a short book.

For more, please visit my blog, here. ( )
  LizoksBooks | Dec 15, 2018 |
Ci sono casi in cui non serve leggere libri di storia per venire a conoscenza di ciò che ha avuto luogo in passato.
Basta trovare il libro giusto, l'autore giusto, quello che riesce ad impregnare i propri romanzi con verità storica, che tramite personaggi inventati riesce a dipingere fatti reali.
Grossman è uno di questi.
Niente giri di parole, niente indorature di pillole: uno stile schietto, persino crudo a volte, ma che obbliga il lettore ad affrontare grandi temi del passato e purtroppo anche del presente, come quello della colpa. Una questione che tutt'ora non ha una soluzione definitiva, che fa discutere, e che lui fa emergere non con monologhi filosofici, ma con fatti. ( )
  Shay17 | Mar 30, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grossman, Vasilyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adrian, EsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aslanyan, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bos, RonaldAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, ElizabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nitschke, AnneloreÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stoffel, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Khabarovsk express was due to arrive in Moscow by 9 A.M.
(Introduction) Vasily Grossman has become recognized not only as one of the great war novelists of all time but also as one of the first and most important of witnesses to the Shoah.
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Everything Flows is the last novel by Vasily Grossman, written after the Soviet authorities suppressed his extraordinary epic of besieged Stalingrad, and the besieged modern soul, Life and Fate. The central story is simple yet moving: Ivan Grigoryevich, the hero, is released after thirty years in the Soviet camps and has to struggle to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar world. This story, however, provides only the bare bones of a work written with prophetic urgency and in the shadow of death. Interspersing Ivan's story with a variety of other stories and essays and even a miniature play, Grossman writes boldly and uncompromisingly about Russian history and the 'Russian soul,' about Lenin and Stalin, about Moscow prisons in 1937, and about the fate of women in the Gulag, and in the play he subtly dramatizes the pressures that force people to compromise with an evil regime. His chapter about the least-known act of genocide of the last century-the Terror Famine that led to the deaths of around five million Ukrainian peasants in 1932 - 33-is unbearably lucid, comparable in its power only to the last cantos of Dante's Inferno.

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Editions: 1590173287, 1590173899

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