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Life and Fate [Paperback]

Vasily Grossman
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 25 2003
Suppressed by the KGB, Life and Fate is a rich and vivid account of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.

On its completion in 1960, Life and Fate was suppressed by the KGB. Twenty years later, the novel was smuggled out of the Soviet Union on microfilm. At the centre of this epic novel looms the battle of Stalingrad. Within a world torn apart by ideological tyranny and war, Grossman’s characters must work out their destinies. Chief among these are the members of the Shaposhnikov family – Lyudmila, a mother destroyed by grief for her dead son; Viktor, her scientist-husband who falls victim to anti-semitism; and Yevgenia, forced to choose between her love for the courageous tank-commander Novikov and her duty to her former husband. Life and Fate is one of the great Russian novels of the 20th century, and the richest and most vivid account there is of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In 1961, this epic WWII Russian novel about the battle of Stalingrad was seized for being "anti-Soviet" by the KGB; it was finally published almost 20 years after the author's death, when a dissident publisher smuggled a microfilm copy to the West.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Grossman (1905-64) hoped that Life and Fate (1960), the sequel to his World War II novel In a Just Cause (Za Pra voe delo, 1954; no English translation), would appear in the USSR. Even dur ing the 1960s "thaw," that proved im possible. The translator compares the book to War and Peace , but it is closer to Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle in portraying a society that knows neither physical nor spiritual peace. Grossman uses one family's experiences of the months of the Stalingrad campaign to show the entire mad tapestry woven by Stalin and Hitler. Like Solzhenitsyn, he depicts laboratories, prisons, and the Soviet elite's uneasy privilege, but he also covers both sides of the front and follows Jews to the gas chambers. This sprawling, uneven novel is wrenching, and compelling in its portrait of loyal citizens who repel the Nazi invaders only to face renewed repression at home. Mary F. Zirin, Altadena, Cal.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary work Jan. 15 2006
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Vasily Grossman submitted his manuscript for Life and Fate in 1960 at the height of Khrushchev's post-Stalinist cultural thaw. Subsequent to a review of the manuscript Grossman was advised that the book was being arrested. The book could not be published for at least 200 years. All copies of the manuscript were rounded up and sent to party headquarters for safekeeping. The manuscript was arrested because it dared to imply 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 and the book was banned. Life and Fate was eventually published because a manuscript remained at large. The author 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 published in the USSR in 1989 to sensational results. Nevertheless, Grossman remains relatively obscure outside Russia and that is a great pity.
Grossman was born 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 by Maxim Gorky, Grossman began writing short stories and plays. Grossman adopted 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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fate of Life March 10 2004
Format:Paperback
Grossman has spoken to us beyond the grave. It is with a heavy, Slavic accent in the "Russian" style - huge tomes, sweeping arcs of drama, a large cast of characters, death, repression, a cry for freedom and an attempt to make sense of both the internal and external world.
Some reviewers both here and elsewhere have taken Grossman to task for suggesting that the Soviet regime was a mirror image of the Nazi state. Both were collectivist societeis, both exalted group rights over the individual, both were run by a party apparatus, Both employed terror on their own citizens and remained in power through sheer force. Germany has had to atone for her crimes many times over but the Soviet state has yet to acknowledge the murder of up to 50 million people according to the mathematician dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.
The titantic struggle between these two forces forms the basis of the book. But it is not just the battles; Grossman allows us to see the human behind the machine, the wants and needs and hopes of common people. It is impossible for anyone who has not been in battle - particularly a siege - to grasp the futility and absolute unreality of the situation. That is why the small deeds and everyday actions seem to stand out; they are subtle reminders of a time without war, normality and reason.
And in this theater of the absurd, Grossman documents the almost insane actions of the Soviet regime: The political commander's rabid focus on Marxist theory when people are starving, the wasting of human beings as mere objects, the violence and above all else, arguing Socialist theory amidst rubble, the dreary, gray, hapless lives in a totalitarain state.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This was a wonderful book if you enjoy historical fiction. It starts a little slow and is very broad in depth and characters (which makes it a little confusing at times), but if you stick with it you won't be disappointed. It's an amazing account of the Russian side of World War II, and what's even more amazing is how Grossman manages to use this as a vehicle for an even larger theme of the rise of the Soviet State. It's a topic that few people know about, outside of the old cliches of communism being bad/capitalism being good, and it's worth reading just for the value of getting an impression of what life was really like for Russians and this crucial point in their history. As horrible as World War II was for the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others systematically liquidated by the Nazis, few people know about the similar situations going on during collectivization and the purges in Russia prior to the war. Grossman approaches this subject from the many different views of his huge cast of characters, and the reader gets a sense for not only how awful the situation was, but also how the situation was accepted and how each person was forced to deal with it in their own way. The book is amazing for it's breadth and amount of detail (which explains the 800+ pages), and the writing is philosophical and thought-provoking without being pretentious. I've read reviews that compare it to Herman Wouk's books, which I've read and greatly enjoyed, and a rough comparison might be made in terms of detail, but Life and Fate tends to bounce around a bit while a novel such as Winds of War had a more conventional structure and was slightly easier to follow. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Tolstoy, but well worth reading
This novel was my choice for summertime reading, and I was not disappointed. I had previously read the compilation of Grossman's wartime writings "An Author at War", so I... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Wreck Smurfy
5.0 out of 5 stars Staying Human
Vasily Grossman was a journalist during World War II, he reported for the Red Army newspaper "Red Star", covering among other events, the battle for Stalingrad. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2010 by Daffy Bibliophile
5.0 out of 5 stars The Epic Struggle for Freedom!
This is one of the best fictional accounts of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-5 that I have ever read. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2009 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
5.0 out of 5 stars Opening the Door to the Nightmare of Totalitarianism
Growing up in the Cold War 1960's in the United States, I received the educational message that the Russian people (or, more accurately the people of the USSR) were basically a... Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2002 by givbatam3
5.0 out of 5 stars Please please read this book
There's a decent proportion of readers whose reaction to a Russian epic over 600 pages called "Life and Fate" is to snicker. If that's you, probably best to pass on. Read more
Published on Aug. 6 2002 by PawelMorski
3.0 out of 5 stars A dissent
Suppressed in the early sixties, translated into English in the mid-eighties, and published under Gorbachev's rule, Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate is the most famous Russian novel... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2002 by pnotley@hotmail.com
5.0 out of 5 stars What If Tolstoy Had Lived A Century Later?
He might have written a book like _Life and Fate_. True, Grossman's epic lacks the didactic sections about history that have bemused college students for a century. Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2001 by Ruth Edlund
5.0 out of 5 stars 15 stars
It has been less than a year since I read Life and Fate and I envy all those who haven't read it yet. The novel is simply about ordinary people in extraordinary times. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2001 by I. Emre Kose
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Russian novels - EVER WRITTEN
I am surprised why this book is not as widely known as the classics of the 19th century. This book should definetely be among the classics of the 20th century litterature. Read more
Published on March 26 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars a history of endurance and hope
Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate belongs the category of suppressed literature in the Soviet Russia. The author dared to submit the manuscript of this big book approval only after... Read more
Published on Feb. 2 2001 by ajai mangattu pakrudheen
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