Top critical review
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Exceptional in parts
on 7 February 2006
There is no denying that this is a good book and a very interesting read. Parts of it (more details below) are exceptional and truly great writing. However, it didn't quite hold together as I had expected it to and lacked a coherent narrative that made for rather disjointed reading. I guess if one reads the description carefully (that this a collection of writings from Grossman's works and in particular his notebooks), then that is to be expected.
If you are expecting a flowing narrative and excellent historical resource, something like a Beevor book, then you may be disappointed. You will get some very interesting passages and some great writing from Grossman and some useful texts that act as links and joining narrative from Beevor, but you won't get a coherent read. It would also help to know a fair bit about the subject matter. Hence the three stars.
There is one very important exception to this, the section on Treblinka. Alone this is worth getting the book for. I can't describe it as enjoyable reading, but it is extremely powerful, gripping and basically as good as this kind of writing can get. Exceptional and five stars for that section alone.
I suspect that a better bet for someone interested in Grossman and this period would be to read Life and Fate, as much of what appears in that is based on things included in Grossman's diaries and other writings. That really is a complete masterpiece.
For those really interested in the subject matter, this is still a good book though.