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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Steal a little (or nothing at all) and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king, 7 Jan 2011
This review is from: Everything Flows (Hardcover)
For those already familiar with Grossman, probably through Life And Fate, but possibly through the more recently published The Road: Short Fiction and Essays or A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945, puffs on the dust wrapper of this volume from Anthony Beevor, Martin Amis and others referring to Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak and Tolstoy will seem unnecessary. But Harvill Secker has presumably studied its market and is aware that Grossman has not yet achieved the place he merits in the Western consciousness. This excellent edition of Everything Flows, for which we are hugely indebted to Robert Chandler and collaborators, should do much to rectify matters.

During the Khrushchev thaw following Stalin's death, Ivan Grigoryevich is released from a Siberian prison camp. He has served 29 years, not for any real crime, but because of his refusal as a young man to fall-in with a corrupt system. Despite his experience of arrest, interrogation, transportation and the camps, his moral rectitude remains unblunted. On a progress taking in Moscow and Leningrad, an un-named city possibly in Ukraine, and Abkhazia, his Black Sea coast place of birth, he meets, among others, a cousin who, unlike himself, compromised as demanded and has lived comfortably, suffering nothing worse than frustration; a former student friend who has exploited the system to his own great benefit, and was in fact the one who betrayed Ivan; and a sad and lonely widow, an essentially decent person with deep regrets over past accommodation with the system.

Although a novel, Everything Flows has sections of pure polemic - particularly against Lenin - that might have been better integrated had Grossman lived long enough to fully realise his vision. However, the work is not noticeably unfinished, and Grossman's central purposes are achieved. Not least among them is powerful communication of his view that "the vilest thing about stool pigeons and informers...the most terrible thing is the good in them; the saddest thing is that they are full of merits and good qualities. They are loving and affectionate sons, fathers and husbands... They are capable of real achievements of virtue and labour. They love science, our great Russian literature, fine music..." Grossman repeatedly refers to Lenin's claim to have been deeply moved by Tolstoy and Beethoven.

Sections on life in a women's prison camp and on the 1932-33 famine are as powerful as anything I have read on those subjects anywhere and, as a shorter work and a novel, many readers will find Forever Flows more palatable than tomes such as Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (P.S.) and Robert Conquest's Harvest Of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivation and the Terror-Famine (Pimlico). Like them, Forever Flows contains many references to names, significant places and events in Russian and Soviet history. Few readers will be wholly familiar with all of them, but Robert Chandler's excellent notes fill most of the gaps magnificently.
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Lost John
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Location: Devon, England

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