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Life And Fate
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on 10 November 2017
Words fail me, everyone should read it. It will become a Russian classic. Brilliant!
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on 17 April 2017
Great read
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on 7 July 2017
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on 3 August 2017
Excellent. Everyone should read it.
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on 28 March 1999
This is one of the finest books I have translated, a novel of extraordinary depth. Impounded by the KGB and first published twenty years after the author's death, the novel provides a remarkably complete picture of Stalin's Russia. Grossman writes with equal authority about front-line soldiers, the Russian and German high commands, Russian and German concentration camps, academic life and the life of ordinary civilians. The chapters dealing with the holocaust are a moving lament for the whole of European Jewry. One of the great realistic novels of the century. Grossman's gifts are his powers of observation and his compassion.
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on 29 March 2017
Where to start...I am a big fan of 20th century Russian literature as well as avid reader in general. Whether you are a fan of Russian literature or history can be seen as irrelevant, this is one of the most stunning, beautiful and gripping novels I have ever read.

Taking the Russian aspect aside initially, this book is a beautifully written novel striking st the heart of human emotions, behaviour and motivations. The multiple characters have given the author the opportunity to focus on the subtle as well as the larger and more horrific scenarios experienced in such an awful period in Russian history. Subsequently, this novel is as much about humanity and how small decisions have a big emotional and life changing impact as it is about the atttorocities millions experienced. His style of writing is beautiful, out of the harshest scenarios he is able to deeply describe the most humane and sensitive touches, meaning the reader becomes entirely involved in the lives of each character. Some characters you love, sympathise with and spend the entire novel wishing for them to act in certain ways, survive and end well, others you despise, yet are gripped by their actions, motivations and again feel closely involved with the characters. The story lines are superb but the style of writing elevates these stories to a far higher level of significance.

As insight into the mindset of such a turbulent and terrifying time in Russian history, I defy the reader to find a better novel. I also defy the reader not to want to learn more about Russian the it's history over the last 100 years.

Read this book, I was not able to put this down and took every small opportunity possible to read it.
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on 5 April 2008
This is an outstanding book. Epic in its ambition, it manages to completely evoke not just a place and time but to give a shattering insight into the nature of Soviet Russia. There are not only incidents and passages in this book which will stay with me forever (some described by other reviewers) but also ideas and insights about war and totalitarianism as well as the complexity of people themselves.

Much of the contemporary fiction I have read in recent years seems pretty shrivelled and worthless in comparison to this.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2004
Vasily Grossman submitted his manuscript for Life and Fate in 1960 at the height of Khrushchev's post-Stalinist cultural thaw. Grossman was then advised that the book (but not Grossman) was being arrested and could not be published for at least 200 years. All copies (supposedly) of the manuscript were rounded up and sent to party headquarters for safekeeping. Why was Life and Fate arrested? Because it implied that Hitlerism and Stalinism bore more similarities than differences. Grossman made this point obliquely by putting these words into the mouth of a despicable SS death camp commandant. Nevertheless this was too much for both Khrushchev and the apparatchiks at the National Union of Writers, most notably Mikhail Suslov, and the book was banned. Life and Fate was eventually published because a manuscript remained at large. A number of people, most notably Vladimir Voinovich, helped smuggle a copy to Switzerland, where it was published in 1980, 15 years after Grossman's death in 1965. The book was eventually published in the USSR in 1989 to sensational results. Nevertheless, Grossman remains relatively obscure outside Russia and that is a great pity.
The book's emotional core centers around man's struggle for freedom in an unfree world. The book's narrative line centers around the bloodiest battle of the 20th century, the Battle of Stalingrad. Josef Skvorecky put the central question of Life and Fate thusly: "Does man lose his innate yearning for freedom? The fate of both man and the totalitarian State depends on the answer to this question. If human nature does change, then the eternal and world wide triumph of the dictatorial state is assured; if his yearning for freedom remains constant, then the totalitarian state is doomed."
Life and Fate is a remarkable novel despite its sometimes unremarkable prose that evokes Grossman's earlier socialist realism style of writing. Grossman was born in Berdichev, Ukraine in 1905. Although Jewish by birth, Grossman was never particularly religious and his family supported the 1917 revolution. After receiving a degree in chemistry Grossman found work in the Donbass coal mines. Encouraged to write by Maxim Gorky, Grossman began writing short stories and plays. Grossman adopted to Stalin's maxim that writers were engineers of human souls and his work was firmly rooted in the rather tedious school of socialist realism. Grossman's play "If You Believe the Pythagoreans" attacked the philosophical rants of intellectuals and argued that they were garbage not "worth a good worker's boot." Grossman was a true believer. How and why did this change?
Grossman volunteered for the front after the German invasion in 1941 and worked as a reporter for Red Star, an army newspaper known for its forthright reports from the front lines, including Stalingrad and Kursk. Grossman received national fame due to his reporting. Grossman was the first reporter to write first hand accounts of German concentration camps and his work at Treblinka understandably had a devastating impact on his world view. Grossman learned after the war that his mother, who he failed to move from Berdichev to Moscow after the invasion perished in Hitler's genocide. It was the death of his mother and the post war anti-Semitic campaigns of Stalin that may have led Grossman to challenge his own acceptance of Soviet orthodoxy and set him to work on Life and Fate and his other major work, Forever Flowing.
The scope of the story and the cast of characters are vast and in the tradition of both Tolstoy and Pasternak. The characters may be hard to keep track of but this edition contains a list of characters and their geographic location during the story. The central characters include Viktor Shtrum, a scientist, and his extended family. Other central figures include Captain Grekov, the leader of a group of soldiers doing battle with the Nazi's in a bombed out apartment building (much of the fighting in Stalingrad consisted of hand to hand fighting in factories and apartment buildings in the heart of the city). Grossman's accurate portrayal of the extraordinary heroism of the Red Army at Stalingrad earned him the respect and admiration of many. Grekov is an iconoclast doing battle with not only the Nazis but the political commissars (such as Nikolay Krymov, the first husband of Shtrum's wife). Key scenes in the book also take place in a German concentration camp, and a Russian labor camp. The relationships between the characters in Life and Fate form the connection between the disparate geographic settings in the book
A letter from Viktor's mother to Viktor became the emotional heart of the book for me. Shtrum's mother, like Grossman's, was left behind in the Ukraine and fell victim to the SS. Shtrum's mother was able to get one last letter out to Viktor. In it she sets out her vision and her hope of how she would like Viktor to act in the face of adversity, oppression, and dead. One can only imagine Grossman's own emotions as he worked on this portion of the manuscript. The fact that Viktor does not live up to her mother's hopes when asked by the party to sacrifice his honor on a matter of principle sums up the desperate choices that must sometimes be made to survive in an oppressive regime. One can also guess that Grossman sought to honor his beloved mother's memory by writing Life and Fate and submitting it for publication. One can only hope that his mother somehow looked down and smiled as Vasily took his personal leap of faith.
Life and Fate is a wonderful book. Chandler's translation is excellent. Grossman's assertion towards the end of his work that we can be slaves by fate but not slaves by nature is an important concept to keep a hold of today.
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on 6 October 2009
An awesome novel. Brilliantly constructed, written and translated, and sweeping in its wisdom and overview of the trauma of the Second World War. Richly-studded with profound insights into the psychology of terror and compliance in both Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. As a long-time student, resident, reporter, admirer and critic of both Soviet Russia and of Germany, I could scarcely recommend a more gripping and informative novel about the lived and felt reality of a war and of two systems which defined the last century. On a par with Tolstoy's War and Peace - without the boring bits.
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on 2 September 2010
A stunning and brialliantly written book. Grossman, a Jewish writer, was a war correspondent for the Soviets. As such he saw the slaughter and unavoidable wartime oddities, at close hand. Post war he worked on a detailed account of the Nazi treatment of the Jews which was surpressed due to the late Stalinist anti-Semitic campaign. These experiences, and the inevitable political paranoia of life under Stalin, underlie this novel. As a result the accounts of daily warfare at the front and away from it ring true. The operation of a gas chamber is portrayed in a way which, though less visual than TV, is claustrophobically more graphic. And behind everything the unpredictable operations of the state and its security organs cause everybody to live with one eye looking behind them.

When you cannot know who your friends really are, how can humanity survive both malicious and accidental betrayals? Is there any sense in showing courage before totalitarianism? Grossman answers by illustrating simple acts of human kindness which expose the inherent misanthropy of both Nazism and Communism, and even occasional acts of near suicidal bravery. And yet, behind all this one wishes Grossman could have understood why the Baptists' prayers in the Gulags gave them a reason for hope as well as for kindness.

Do make frequent use of the cast list in the back of the book. You will need to keep reminding yourself who is who. I read most of the book on a week's holiday and it benefitted from being read in a short, intense span.
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