Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) was born in present-day Ukraine and was a combat correspondent for the Red Star during WWII, covering from the defense of Stalingrad through the fall of Berlin. He then wrote the first ever account in any language of a German death camp. During the War Grossman¹s Red Star articles were of great importance to the Soviet population; and, as a morale booster, soldiers at the front would read aloud from a single copy. His articles were particularly relevant for the truthfulness that was knowingly in short supply. According to historians, there really was no journalistic parallel in the West to Red Star's role on the Eastern Front. From these combat experiences was born LIFE AND FATE.
The initial manuscript was seized and suppressed by the KGB in 1960. Grossman was then advised by the chief ideologue from the Khrushchev years that it would be another 200 or 300 years before such a novel could be published. But, as we know, history intervened; and, since its translation, LIFE AND FATE is considered a masterpiece. Grossman died before its publication and is now praised as Tolstoy's heir apparent. Grossman is considered the only Soviet writer to change his spots completely: "The slave in him died and a free man arose." He was known for his courage during the years of the Great Terror and in 1938 confronted the State's executioner about his wife's imprisonment. Thus, this fearless man began his move toward dissidence as well as his search for the absolute truth. He would write only what he thought through, felt through, and suffered through.
LIFE AND FATE is centered upon the defense of Stalingrad and is probably the most significant account of this bloodiest battle of the 20th century. It has been conservatively estimated that Stalingrad cost the lives of 2.7 million to include military and civilian. That number is now being increased as records previously closed to researchers are opened. Russia's ultimate victory in defending Stalingrad from German capture is considered by many military historians a major, if not the major, turning point in the War. Amazingly, Grossman is able to chronicle the War between these two fascist States in its most destructive horror and at the same time detail the characteristics of the slow demise of the civilian populations at the hand of their fanatical leaders and functionaries.
The novel's structure is similar to WAR AND PEACE as the life of an entire country is evoked through a number of subplots involving members of a single family. A list of chief characters assists greatly during the reading. Grossman felt through his writing it was his moral duty to speak on behalf of the dead. That brings us to this final, stunning irony: In victory, Communism ultimately became the mirror image of National Socialism, sinking rapidly into crime and terror. No heresy could have been more shocking for the deceased defenders of Stalingrad than the Soviet Union ending up much like Nazi Germany. In the end, the people of Stalingrad's brave fight for freedom was nullified as personal horror and criminal activity became the Soviet norm.
Lastly, THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM has recorded and analyzed the worldwide crimes of Communist regimes lying to rest the myth of well-intentioned founders. The significance of Communism in the hierarchy of violence that is the history of the twentieth century is unparalleled. LIFE AND FATE speaks directly to those 25 to 30 million civilian deaths at the hands of the former Soviet Union ruled by Communists. No one can now claim ignorance about the criminal nature of Communism and Grossman was the first Soviet writer courageous enough to reveal its evil.
I found LIFE AND FATE to be the best novel I have ever read. Grossman was so unflinchingly true in his ability to depict the tragedy of WWII that one lives every scene. He clearly portrays the confrontation of the "Individual versus the State" that only a Russian could write. This novel should be of particular interest to C-133 crewmembers as many were WWII veterans and we were all part of the Cold War that ensued from Communism's ugly desire to rule the world.
Reviewed for C-133 Crewmembers by Rick Spencer
To find out more about this enlightening book, and buy it for $12.07, click on: LIFE AND FATE