THE BONES OF BERDICHEV: The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman by John & Carol Garrard Garrard

THE BONES OF BERDICHEV: The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first biography of Grossman, who, though little known in the West, is regarded as one of the great Russian novelists of this century. The Garrards (coauthors, Inside the Soviet Writer's Union, 1990), basing themselves largely on archival and unpublished sources that became available after the fall of the Soviet Union, approach their subject through the prism of one of the most traumatic experiences of Grossman's life: the death of his mother during the mass execution of some 30,000 Jews at Berdichev in 1941. The impact of her death on Grossman was the more devastating because he had failed to use his influence to ensure that she left Berdichev before the Nazi occupation. This event, together with his experiences during WW II, when he was the most famous Soviet war correspondent and was present at the liberation of the notorious Treblinka concentration camp, make him, the Garrards note, the person who first documented the Holocaust, publishing accounts as early as 1943. It also set him on a collision course with Stalin, who wanted no mention of the role played by Ukrainians and other ethnic groups in the Holocaust, and who was himself moving into the anti-Semitic phase characterized by the ""Doctor's Plot."" Only Stalin's death, the Garrards believe, saved Grossman's life. Even after Stalin's death the writer continued to have difficulty in getting his work published, and his greatest novel, Life and Fate, which has been compared to War and Peace, was not published in Russia until 1988, nearly 25 years after Grossman's death. A little extravagant in its judgments--the Garrards believe that Grossman ""offered a more substantial challenge to Marxism-Leninism than anything Solzhenitsyn published""--but a valuable introduction to an important and hitherto neglected figure.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1996
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Free Press