“Life and Fate”《生活与命运》
War, peace and love战争、和平与爱情
Vasily Grossman’s epic novel is transformed for the radio
Sep 10th 2011 | from the print edition
Vasily Grossman vindicated
FEW novels have the foes and fans of “Life and Fate”, Vasily Grossman’s vast book about the Nazis and Soviets at war. The Soviet Communist Party’s ideology chief said it would be more damaging even than Boris Pasternak’s “Dr Zhivago”. That was a high accolade. Another was that the book itself was arrested. In 1961 the KGB confiscated the typescript and even, for good measure, the typewriter ribbon. Grossman, once a loyal party man and an acclaimed war correspondent, was spared jail. But he died four years later, fearing that his sprawling work would never be published (the authorities had said mockingly that it might happen in 200 years). Many years later Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet dissident, helped smuggle a microfilm copy to the West, where it was eventually published in English in 1985.
The book was not an immediate success. For some years it was overshadowed by the better known work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and by the excitement of reform and then collapse in the Soviet Union. It is also intimidatingly long, with a swirling cast of scores of confusingly named characters. Hundreds of pages sometimes separate their appearances. The sweep of Grossman’s pen can exhaust the reader. True to its title, “Life and Fate” mixes gritty battlefield descriptions with acute psychological insights, wrenching dilemmas and deep philosophical reflections about the nature of good and evil. It is at once funny, gruesome, tragic, informative, romantic and disconcerting. The central message of horror jars with the simplistic but widely held notion that the war was a black-and-white struggle between beastly Nazis and their valiant adversaries.