Is this the greatest Russian novel of the twentieth century? Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

by |October 14, 2011

“Books shape our lives and transform the way we see ourselves and each other. The best books are timeless and continue to be relevant generation after generation.”

Vintage Classics asked the winners of The Orange Prize for Fiction which books they would pass onto the next generation and why.

Linda Grant chose Life and Fate:

‘I have urged all my friends to read it…. I want others to feel as I have done – that they are entering the heart of the twentieth century, touching its pulse’

Life and Fate

The greatest Russian novel of the twentieth century!

This sweeping account of the siege of Stalingrad aims to give as panoramic a view of Soviet society during World War II as Tolstoy did of Russian life in the epoch of the Napoleonic Wars. Completed in 1960 and then confiscated by the KGB, it remained unpublished at the author’s death in 1964; it was smuggled into the West in 1980.

Grossman offers a bitter, compelling vision of a totalitarian regime where the spirit of freedom that arose among those under fire was feared by the state at least as much as were the Nazis. His huge cast of characters includes an old Bolshevik now under arrest, a physicist pressured to make his scientific discoveries conform to “socialist reality” and a Jewish doctor en route to the gas chambers in occupied Russia.

Ironically, just as Stalingrad is liberated from the Germans, many of the characters find themselves bound in new slavery to the Soviet government. Yet Grossman suggests that the spirit of freedom can never be completely crushed. His lengthy, absorbing novel, which rejected the compromises of a lifetime and earned its author denunciation and disgrace testifies eloquently to that spirit.

VASILY GROSSMAN was born in 1905. In 1941, he became a war reporter for the Red Army newspaper Red Star and came to be regarded as a legendary war hero. LIFE AND FATE, his masterpiece, was considered a threat to the totalitarian regime, and Grossman was told that there was no chance of the novel being published for another 200 years. Grossman died in 1964.

Now Available in again in Australia – order your copy here

One of the greatest masterpieces of the twentieth century
Times Literary Supplement

It is only a matter of time before Grossman is acknowledged as one of the great writers of the 20th century… Life and Fate is a book that demands to be talked about
Guardian

Vasily Grossman’s novel is burnt in my memory, not only by its huge canvas, its meditation on tyranny, and its dazzling description of war, but also because this is the novel that made me cry – not just a few leaked tears, but a full-scale sobbing episode – in Montpellier airport… Grossman lost his mother in a concentration camp. In Life and Fate, he writes with tenderness, and pain, not only of that experience but of what it is like to survive tyranny. A classic indeed
Gillian Slovo, Independent

One of the finest Russian novels of the 20th century
Daily Telegraph

One of the world’s great war novels
Independent on Sunday

One of the great writers of the last century
Observer

A literary genius. His Life And Fate is rated by many as the finest Russian novel of the 20th Century
Mail on Sunday

Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece, Life and Fate, is fascinating for many reasons, and one of them is the way that it is both a pastiche and a personal statement; a conscious, cold-blooded attempt to sum up everything Grossman knew about the Great Patriotic War, and at the same time to rewrite War and Peace.
London Review of Books

LISTEN: Andrew Marr discusses the life and work of the writer Vasily Grossman in a special programme recorded at an event in Oxford to celebrate his greatest novel, Life and Fate. Andrew talks to the historian Antony Beevor, the writers Andrey Kurkov and Linda Grant.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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