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I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us."
Anna Akhmatova's Requiem

If Life and Fate may rightfully be seen as Vasily Grossman's masterpiece, his Everything Flows may rightfully be seen as his testament, a requiem if you will not only for his own life but for the lives of those who lived in his time and place.

"Everything Flows" tells a simple, yet emotionally deep and politically nuanced tale. The story begins with the 1957 return to Moscow of Ivan Grigoryevich after 30 years of forced labor in the Gulag. 1957 marked the year, following Khrushchev's denunciation of the excesses of Stalin, in which the tide of prisoners returning from the Gulag reached its peak. He arrives at the Moscow flat of his cousin Nikolay. Nikolay, a scientist with less than stellar skills, has reached some measure of success at the laboratory through dint of being a survivor. The meeting in the flat is entirely unsatisfactory for both parties. Grossman paints a vivid picture of Nikolay, more than a bit jealous that Ivan's light had always shone brighter than his own prior to Ivan's arrest. Nikolay suffers from the guilt of one who was not arrested and who is painfully aware of the choices he made to keep from being arrested. It seems clear that Ivan represents a mirror into which Nikolay can see only his own hollow reflection.

Ivan leaves Moscow for his old city of Leningrad, the place where he was first arrested in 1927. By chance, he runs into the person, Pinegin, whose denunciation placed him in jail in the first place. Once again, Ivan is a mirror and Pinegin is horrified at what he is faced with, what he has buried for thirty years. Ironically, and to great effect, we see Pinegin's horror recede once he settles down to a sumptuous lunch at a restaurant reserved for foreigners and party officials. Ivan does not know about the denunciation and Grossman here embarks on a discourse on the different types and forms of denunciation available to the Soviet citizen. It is a remarkable discourse that shows how many different ways there are to participate in a purge and how many ways there are to legitimize ones participation and/or acquiescence.

From Leningrad Ivan travels to a southern industrial city where he finds work and eventually finds a deep and satisfying love in the person of his landlady Anna. The centerpiece of that relationship is the brutal honesty involved; Anna spends a night detailing her role in the pointless, needless famine that swept the Ukraine in 1932-1933. It is an account made even more chilling by the straightforward, confessional nature of its telling. But it is also redemptive and shines a light on what might be called Grossman's vision that love and freedom are two goals, not mutually exclusive, that an honest accounting of our lives forms the essence of our shared humanity.

The above summary does not do justice to the power of Grossman's prose or to the literary and political importance of the work. Since the death of Stalin, the Soviet line had remained relatively firm - Stalin's excesses were the product of a disturbed mind that represented a horrible deviation from the theory and principles of Leninism. The USSR's best path was the one that returned it to the path created by Lenin. Khrushchev first enunciated this line. Even Gorbachev's perestroika was based on the theory that a return to first-principles, i.e. Leninism, would save the USSR from destruction.

Grossman, prophetically, did not buy into this line and Everything Flows'last chapters are notable for a remarkable attack not only on Stalin but on Lenin and Lenin's anti-democratic tendencies that had more in common with Ivan the Terrible than the principles of revolutionary democracy. "All the triumphs of Party and State were bound up with the name of Lenin. But all the cruelty inflicted on the nation also lay - tragically - on Lenin's shoulders." Grossman may have been the first to make this leap and he paid the price for making that leap. (This involves the suppression of his Life & Fate and Everything Flows.) Grossman's explicit claim that Stalin was not a deviationist from Leninism but its natural-born progeny was profoundly subversive and there is no doubt in my mind that it was this difference that explains why, under Khruschev's 'thaw', that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was publishe while Life and Fate and Everything Flows was banned.

Despite the horrors set out, quietly and without excess rhetoric, Grossman returns to a somewhat optimistic vision of mans search for freedom: "No matter how mighty the empire, all this is only mist and fog and, as such, will be blown away. Only one true force remains; only one true force continues to evolve and live; and this force is liberty. To a man, to live means to be free."

Robert Chandler's translation of Everything Flows is exquisite. He brings the same clarity and emotional investment in Grossman's work that he brought to his prize-winning translations of Platonov and Hamid Ismailov's The Railway. In short, Everything Flows is a treasure and I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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on 6 August 2011
In a forest of 27 chapters planted across 225 pages, Vasily Grossman fills reservoirs with essay-style discourse in between rivers of real-life, from characters sucked into the whirlpool of a post-revolutionary force that was the Soviet Union.
The opening is poignant, Ivan Grigoryevich returns home after 30 years in a gulag. His memories are strong and he relishes freedom, but he sees that Russia has lost none of the absurdities and paradoxes of communism.
Grossman constructs a narrative around this homecoming to illustrate this, and to open up the dark heart of Russia's communist legacy. He weaves his message around a complex array of characters, with the result a damning indictment of an evil regime that brutalised and murdered its own people.
Grossman skilfully utilises language, metaphors and similes that not only create strong images, but which also provoke thought and feeling. He switches viewpoint effortlessly, pulling the reader into the story with ease.
The final chapters are compelling and astonishing, as Grossman goes deeper and deeper into that black Soviet heart. We are left in no doubt who are the guilty, but despite the overall dark tone of this novel, we are left with hope for the human race.
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'Everything Flows' is the novel Vasily Grossman was still revising during his last days in hospital and is an unfinished book. However, unfinished and perhaps a little unbalanced in its structure it may be, it is still nevertheless, a work of art.

Grossman became a published writer in the 1930s and, after his mother was murdered during the German invasion in 1941, he volunteered for the army but was employed as a journalist instead, becoming one of Russia's most renowned war correspondents. Grossman witnessed some of the most appalling events of twentieth century: the siege of Leningrad, the Holocaust and the Terror Famine, and he was able to use these terrible experiences to inform his writing. Grossman gave one of the first accounts of the Nazi death camps and his account was later used as evidence in the Nuremburg Trials. He also collected documentation on the massacres of Russian and Polish Jews, but this was repressed by the Soviet authorities. Grossman became a dissident in the 1950s and wrote `For a Just Cause' - a war novel - but the sequel `Life and Fate' was so outspoken and emotively explosive that it was suppressed by the KGB.

`Everything Flows' is a much shorter novel than `Life and Fate', but the historical scope is, in some ways, no less broad. It tells the story of Ivan Grigoryevich, a fifty-year-old man who has been released from the Gulag after having been incarcerated for thirty years and of his endeavour to find a place for himself in post-Stalinist Russia. The story begins with him visiting his cousin Nikolay, a mediocre scientist, who by compromise and by the timely removal of some of his more talented colleagues, has managed to prosper. Although Nikolay had been hoping that the reunion would be a joyful occasion, he finds he somehow feels threatened by Ivan's presence and thinks this could be due to the guilt he is feeling because Ivan has suffered terribly, whilst he (Nikolay) has remained `free'. In fact few people that Ivan meets after his release have absolutely clear consciences and we start to see that there were two groups of Russians: those who compromised and adapted their lives to the rules of the Soviet state, and those who did not and ended up spending years in the labour camps, the jails, or who were never seen again. These two groups of people were unavoidably connected, for a man might improve his life by denouncing another person of conspiracy or treason, whether the denunciation were true or otherwise.

This is an amazing book; it informed me, enthralled me and unsettled me. A couple of the book's chapters were devoted to Ivan's dwellings on the fate of the women who were incarcerated in the camps and the inhumane treatment that these women received made me cry - as did the section narrated by Anna Sergeyevna, Ivan's lover, about her involvement as an activist in the man-made Terror Famine of 1932-3. This is not the sort of book you can say you have enjoyed reading, but it is one of those books you appreciate having read.

Also recommended Life And Fate and A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945
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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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`Everything Flows' is the novel Vasily Grossman was still revising during his last days in hospital and is an unfinished book. However, unfinished and perhaps a little unbalanced in its structure it may be, it is still nevertheless, a work of art.

Grossman became a published writer in the 1930s and, after his mother was murdered during the German invasion in 1941, he volunteered for the army but was employed as a journalist instead, becoming one of Russia's most renowned war correspondents. Grossman witnessed some of the most appalling events of twentieth century: the siege of Leningrad, the Holocaust and the Terror Famine, and he was able to use these terrible experiences to inform his writing. Grossman gave one of the first accounts of the Nazi death camps and his account was later used as evidence in the Nuremburg Trials. He also collected documentation on the massacres of Russian and Polish Jews, but this was repressed by the Soviet authorities. Grossman became a dissident in the 1950s and wrote `For a Just Cause' - a war novel - but the sequel `Life and Fate' was so outspoken and emotively explosive that it was suppressed by the KGB.

`Everything Flows' is a much shorter novel than `Life and Fate', but the historical scope is, in some ways, no less broad. It tells the story of Ivan Grigoryevich, a fifty-year-old man who has been released from the Gulag after having been incarcerated for thirty years and of his endeavour to find a place for himself in post-Stalinist Russia. The story begins with him visiting his cousin Nikolay, a mediocre scientist, who by compromise and by the timely removal of some of his more talented colleagues, has managed to prosper. Although Nikolay had been hoping that the reunion would be a joyful occasion, he finds he somehow feels threatened by Ivan's presence and thinks this could be due to the guilt he is feeling because Ivan has suffered terribly, whilst he (Nikolay) has remained `free'. In fact few people that Ivan meets after his release have absolutely clear consciences and we start to see that there were two groups of Russians: those who compromised and adapted their lives to the rules of the Soviet state, and those who did not and ended up spending years in the labour camps, the jails, or who were never seen again. These two groups of people were unavoidably connected, for a man might improve his life by denouncing another person of conspiracy or treason, whether the denunciation were true or otherwise.

This is an amazing book; it informed me, enthralled me and unsettled me. A couple of the book's chapters were devoted to Ivan's dwellings on the fate of the women who were incarcerated in the camps and the inhumane treatment these women received made me cry - as did the section narrated by Anna Sergeyevna, Ivan's lover, about her involvement as an activist in the man-made Terror Famine of 1932-3. This is not the sort of book you can say you have enjoyed reading, but it is one of those books you appreciate having read.

5 Stars.

Also recommended Life And Fate and A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945
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on 10 November 2016
I felt myself being dragged into the stalinist world of paranoia, idealism, propaganda, history and injustice. Not a happy read it puts the phrase "plus ça change...." in context. History does repeat itself. Russia (and many other countries) lurches from regime to regime, but nothing really changes.
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on 8 February 2016
When I was at school Solzhenitsyn was the famous Russian dissident writer whose works escaped to the west. Grossman was unheard of at the time. Grossman is not just a far more powerful writer than Solzhenitsyn but he managed a feat that Solzhenitsyn never did - Grossman critiqued the Soviet system whilst he was within it. Even in his "Red Army", heavily-censored, writing he snuck in his own observations and got away with them.

This is a lighter version of his seminal "Life And Fate" - the book that was "arrested" (even the type-writer ribbons were confiscated) but is no less critical of the system, just a tad more subtly-written.
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on 5 January 2014
Amazing book, both for the content and the time that Grossman wrote this. A tiny sliver of light shed on the Soviet Union and how people talked, but as well as the oft-remarked-upon description of the famine, the musings on the nature of human character throughout make this a short book with a massive impact.
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on 17 September 2015
Although I have not yet finished the book, it is casting a long spell over me and I think it is an important literary work for all time. I must declare that Grossman's "Life and Fate" is one of the most imovingt books I have ever read and so I might be a touch biassed about the merits of Everything Flows. A paragraph of Grossman's is immediately recognisable for its directness and its humanity and I guess it is a style that appeals to me. I can only plead to readers of this review, if they do nothing else, is to try a taster and see what they think.
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on 27 February 2016
This is about a man coming back from Siberia. He's free, but his life has been destroyed, and not only his life, but the lives of many people around, a generation, two generations. Still, life has it's bright moments, and nothing is over as long as you're alive... A great book
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