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4.6 out of 5 stars
156
4.6 out of 5 stars
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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 25 April 2017
One of the most amazing books I have ever read. I would also highly recommend moving on to the biography of Grossman by John Garrard to get a fuller appreciation of the drama behind the writing and publication of the novel.
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on 23 August 2017
I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Having read his "A writer at War" which was remarkable, I wanted to follow up with his novel based in the same period. It is 800 pages long but I read it in 5 sessions over less than a week. An extraordinary semi-autobiographical, historically accurate and very moving tour de force. One of those books that tempt you to start again at page 1 the moment you have finished it.
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on 26 May 2017
An excellent read.
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on 17 April 2017
Great read
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on 7 July 2017
Excellent
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on 3 August 2017
Excellent. Everyone should read it.
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on 6 July 2011
This really is a remarkable book, billed as the 20C War and Peace it is set against the siege of Stalingrad in 1941. This edition comes with a helpful introduction by Linda Grant. In many ways the novel is grim. It describes life in German concentration camps and the lead up to the gas chamber in poignant detail. Grossman draws the parallel between the German camps and Russian labour camps set up to deal with dissidents, criminals and Jews. There is little difference between communism and fascism. We read about the torture in the Lubyanka, about the rise and fall and rise again of a Jewish scientist in Russia. There are many examples of how the whims of life and fate change people. One minute, a party official has power over his peers, the next he is interrogated and incarcerated himself, because someone, anyone it seems, has denounced him as an enemy of the people.

There are stories of grasping, selfish individuals who are corrupted by the state, interspersed with stories of great individual courage and defiance. There is the tank corps commander who delays his attack for a few minutes to protect his men and make victory more likely. He is assured enough to stand against the orders of his commanders, but will he too be denounced and reduced? Will he share a similar fate to the manager of the power station who sticks to his post whilst under siege for all but the last day when the battle is finally won?

The scope of the work is immense, but it is very readable. Perhaps it could have benefitted from tighter editing, but the vast canvas gives it credibility and depth. It is essentially about the life and fate of people against the huge power of the state. Many die. Many are wasted. Many are small and petty-minded, but in some, the human spirit lives on, and this is Grossman's message.

Much of the book is grim, but there is a thread of humour and strong theme of humanity. Grossman died before the publication of his masterpiece. Thus, he shared the fate of many of his contemporaries whose work was stifled by the state. The irony is that the battle for Stalingrad was the battle for freedom, yet the freedom won did not allow the publication of this novel. Peerless! But beware, contemporary novels seem thin a vapid in comparison.
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on 23 March 2012
Prepare for a difficult read, in every sense of the word. Grossman's novel, never published in his lifetime, is huge and sprawling, with a overloaded cast list (17 pages in my Kindle edition) of Russians and Germans with confusing, exchangable and sometimes maddeningly similar names, and a plot like an untidy ball of twine with strands appearing out of knots and disappearing into ravels. And searingly difficult on the emotions, tortured most in the hauntingly detailed death-camp scenes, but pricked at every turn as the chief characters in the story love, hurt, deceive and misunderstand each other while they scrabble or hunker down to survive the ravages of war amid the secrecy, paranoia and distorted values of Stalin's Russia.

So why four stars? Because this is almost a great book, or rather the rough diamond of a great book, with certain characters and episodes that will lodge in your mind and live in your memory as they do in great books. I think Grossman must have had it in mind to write a War and Peace for his time (note the associative title) and if he does not quite achieve that in the round there is enough in the particular to give him a deserved place not so far below Tolstoy and Russia's other truly outstanding writers.

I came to this novel through first listening to the BBC's audio adaptation broadcast across a week in the autumn of 2011. Necessarily, the radio version cut out many of the characters and sub-plots of the novel, leaving the essence of Life and Fate, most memorably: the harrowing journey of Sofya Levinton and the boy David to the gas chamber; the betrayal, imprisonment and torture of the `Bolshevik' commissar Nikolay Krymov; the tribulations of the Shaposhnikov family, especially the head of the household, physicist Viktor Shtrum.

It is important to remember that Grossman never had the opportunity to edit his book for publication. The manuscript was `arrested' by the Soviet authorities in 1961 - even Grossman's typewriter ribbon was confiscated along with his typescript. Though the author (who had shown himself in the past a good Party man) escaped jail, he was told his book would not be published in 200 years, and it may not have been but for the smuggling out of the country of a microfilm of his last draft, which was published in English in 1985. The excellent translation I read is by Robert Chandler.

So, buy the book and put plenty of time aside to read it with your fullest attention. Best of luck with the names - my head is still reeling, but it's reeling too with the sheer power of this extraordinary novel.

Reviewer David Williams blogs as Writer in the North.
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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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