An extraordinary novel by war correspondent Grossman (1905-1964), completing, with Life and Fate, a two-volume Soviet-era rejoinder to War and Peace.
Improbably, Grossman survived the purges of the Stalin era even though the dictator’s gaze often fell on him. Toward the end of Stalin’s life, Grossman set to work on the pair of books that would recount what Russians call the Great Patriotic War. His characters come from both sides of the battle and include a German lieutenant who crosses the Don River with his company in triumph but, by the end of the cycle, comes to understand the error of his ways. Grossman’s great subject, in his fiction as well as his reportage, was the terrible nature of totalitarianism. His characters are given to saying things that in the wrong ears could land them in trouble, as when an officious commissar insists that a neighborhood bomb shelter is meant to save people like him, to which a woman, hiding from the shelling, replies, “The fat brute—anyone would think he’s a German. He thinks Hitler’s here already. But we’re Soviet citizens. We’re all equal. He’s the one who should be thrown out to die—not our children!” Soldiers, nurses, schoolteachers: All wither under the months of street-by-street fighting, as do the refugees who flood in from the surrounding countryside, having “heard the roar of the approaching avalanche.” For them and millions of others, Grossman writes in a burst of poetry toward the end of the volume, the “fire of Stalingrad was the fire of Prometheus,” promising undying resistance to fascism even as the great fish in the Volga hug the riverbanks, hoping to keep safe from the rain of metal, and the ants, mice, bees, and other tiny creatures of the Soviet earth try to accustom themselves to “the earth’s constant trembling.”
A classic of wartime literature finally available in a comprehensive English translation that will introduce new readers to a remarkable writer.