A popular Russian author and wartime journalist, Grossman (19051964) witnessed firsthand the historical events that inspired this massive novel: the Nazi siege and Soviet defense of Stalingrad in 1942, Equally critical of Stalinism and Fascism, Grossman's lengthy manuscript met with a chilly reception from Soviet censors, even though it was submitted during the post-Cold War ""thaw."" Completed in 1960 and smuggled west years later, this powerful indictment of the modern totalitarian State wasn't published until 1980 in France, and is only now translated for the first time into English. Four generations of the extended Shaposhnikov family and their friends, scattered throughout Eastern Europe by the war, come together here to form a Tolstoyan panorama of Russian life. Their stories, varied in length and seldom overlapping, encompass a vast landscape--from Siberia to the Ukraine--and introduce characters representative of all strata of Soviet life, privileged New Class types as well as victimized peasants. One plot, for example, centers on the members of a physics institute in Moscow: the lowly laboratory assistants, the eminent Academicians, and the capricious Party functionaries. A number of other plots unfold at the Stalingrad front: generals famous from history devise and execute strategy; a fighter squadron loses two planes during a major offensive; a tank corps leads the ground attack, pushing its way towards Berlin; and a motley group of soldiers courageously defends a surrounded building. Behind enemy lines, Russian prisoners conspire in a concentration camp and Hitler himself orders the 6th army to certain defeat. On the train to the gas chamber and among the Russian prisoners at Lubyanka, Grossman juxtaposes acts of personal heroism with scenes of institutionalized hatred. Elsewhere here the kindness, generosity, and love manage to surface, survive, and at times flourish amidst the carnage and bureaucratic terror. And it's these moments, in particular, which carry along the otherwise somber narrative of events. Those who've slogged through Solzhenitsyn's historical novels will find this more rewarding and relatively easy-going, despite lots of lumpy philosophy and enough characters to fill a seven-page appendix.