Completed in the late 1950s by its distinguished Russian author, this novel has been recognized as fiction on an epic scale: powerful, deeply moving, and devastating in its depiction of a world mutilated by war and ideological tyranny.
Despite the book’s settings - German concentration and Russian labour camps, the Lubyanka, Stalingrad - it’s not fundamentally grim. Grossman is as interested in the nature of Good as he is of Evil. A 50 year old woman doctor ‘adopts’ a small boy as the doors of the gas chamber shut. The commander of a tank battalion spares his men by holding fire for ten minutes with Stalin breathing down his neck.. A Russian woman comforts a dying German soldier.
Grossman believed in the individual and the individual’s essential humanity. This is easy to say and seems sententious when made written down but he also believes in literature with a capital L. The task he sets himself is to create characters and settings that demonstrate this humanity.
Fabulous stuff. Be warned. Clever postmodernist novels are going to look pretty trivial after this.
One tip, check out the character index at the back of the book, before you start reading. Unless you're good with Russian names, it can be a bit hard to follow at first. The index (which I only discovered three quarters of the way though) really helps with identifying who is who.
No question that this is a five star book.
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