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A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945 Paperback – 7 Sep 2006
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"A remarkable addition to the literature of 1941-45...a wonderful portrait of the wartime experience of Russia... A worthy memorial to a remarkable man" (Max Hastings Sunday Telegraph)
"Magnificent... Any war correspondent writing today about the horrors we are still being subjected to by ideologues, mean-spirited leaders and fanatics of various shades and faiths, should take the time to read him. There is a profound humanity in his prose, an abilitity for empathy and a capacity for rage that one rarely meets" (Omer Bartov Times Literary Supplement)
"Grossman, like Isaac Babel twenty years before him, lifts war correspondence to new heights" (Literary Review)
"As a pithy account of war at its most extreme, this fascinating book will rarely be bettered" (James Delingpole Mail on Sunday)
"Unforgettable... Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova have recovered nothing less than a lost classic of reportage" (Sean McCarthy The Scotsman)
A Writer at War offers the one outstanding eye-witness account of the war on the Eastern Front and perhaps the best descriptions ever of what Grossman called 'the ruthless truth of war'.See all Product description
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Read this book; and then read 'Life and Fate'. You will not look back.
Grossman was despatched by his editors to the locations of most of the key events in the Russian war with Germany, and the book is particularly interesting because it runs right through from the invasion, to the defeat of Germany.
Grossman describes countless small events which fill in the broad picture with illuminating detail. He records the capture of a Russian deserter who tried to sneak back home in full peasants rags, but had the misfortune to be recognised by troops of his own unit. He met with brave peasant women who gave their all in order to survive the terrible events that came upon them. There are many stories of Russian military officers and men, snatches of conversation, descriptions of their appearance and behaviour, which all fill out the picture of "Ivan" and show their loyalty to their homeland - and their ignorance of how utterly their political masters were failing them thought lack of foresight and planning.
The book benefits from a fine commentary by Beevor - the diaries are not just edited, they are interpreted for us by a great historian who sets them in context and explains the background to the events, so that the book builds up to a complete history of the Russian war.
I highly recommend this book which reveals a compassionate and humanistic man who recorded the lives of "everyman" on the Russian front and enables us to understand more about the events of those terrible years.
The Soviet journalist and author Vasily Grossman did more than kneel behind the soldier's trench. He lived with the Red Army from the catastrophic summer of 1941, through the defense of Moscow, the apocalyptic carnage of Stalingrad, the hard-won liberation of Soviet territory, the horrible discoveries of Nazi genocide in Madjanek and Treblinka, and the final bloody, triumphant march into Berlin. Anthony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova's "A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945" is a marvelous examination of both "Grossman's war" and the war itself.
Vasily Grossman is something of a forgotten, unsung giant of Soviet literature. Born in Berdichev, Ukraine in 1905, Grossman rose to prominence and received national acclaim as a war reporter for Red Star, the official newspaper of the Red Army. Although never a member of the Communist Party, Grossman was, for most of his life, a strong supporter of the Soviet Union. Grossman's reporting was realistic (despite editing by Party censors) and was enormously popular among both high ranking officers and foot soldiers. After the war, Grossman returned to writing. His magnum opus, Life and Fate was not published in the USSR until 1988. When it was originally submitted for publication the Soviet authorities `arrested' the book and told Grossman that it would not be published for 200 years. Fortunately, a copy of the manuscript survived, was smuggled to Switzerland and published in Europe in 1980, fifteen years after Grossman's death. Life and Fate was based, in good part, on Grossman's wartime experiences. Consequently, Beevor's work provides both an historical, ground-level examination of the war generally and a great deal of insight into the life experiences that formed the moral foundation of Grossman's novels.
Beevor (and his translator and collaborator Vinogradova) have taken Grossman's notebooks, war diaries, personal correspondence and his Red Star articles and set them out as part of their narrative. The transition from Grossman's text to the commentary is well thought out and seamless. Beevor is no stranger to the Eastern Front, (he has written two well received books"Stalingrad" and "The Fall of Berlin") and he does an excellent job of putting Grossman's writings into the context of his times.
Grossman is swept into the war as a reporter for Red Star immediately after the German invasion in June, 1941. Grossman's writing (and Beevor's commentary) takes us through that first disastrous summer of defeat, despair, death, and retreat. The magnificent and bloody defense of Stalingrad follows and the success of Operation Uranus in November, 1942 that resulted in the encirclement and destruction of General Paulus' Sixth Army follows. The next portion of the book has Grossman writing about the Red Army on the offensive, from the Battle of Kursk through the liberation of the Ukraine and then Poland. It is here that Grossman first learns of the horror that was the holocaust.
Grossman's reports from Treblinka were the first, first-hand accounts of the Nazi death camps and what Grossman saw changed his life. Although Jewish, Grossman had always considered himself a secular citizen of the USSR. The death camps and the murder of his mother at the hands of Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators reawakened his sense of a Jewish identity even though he remained totally secular. Grossman's experience of the camps and the evidence he saw there of man's innate inhumanity to man stunned him even after almost 4 years of living with brutality on an unfathomable scale. In ending one of his reports Grossman writes: "It is infinitely hard even to read this. The reader must believe me, it is as hard to write it. Someone might ask: "Why write about all this, why remember all that?" It is the writer's duty to tell this terrible truth, and it is the civilian duty of the reader to learn it."
It is clear from reading A Writer at War and two of Grossman's novels, "Life and Fate" and "Forever Flowing" that Grossman took his duty to tell his terrible truth seriously. Beevor has done Grossman a good service by letting Grossman's voice be heard again. I hope this book creates renewed interest in Grossman's life and writing.
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