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Life and Fate

Life and Fate

4.8 13
by Vasily Grossman

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Suppressed by the KGB, Life and Fate is a rich and vivid account of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.
On its completion in 1960, Life and Fate was suppressed by the KGB. Twenty years later, the novel was smuggled out of the Soviet Union on microfilm. At the centre of this epic novel looms the battle of Stalingrad. Within a world torn apart


Suppressed by the KGB, Life and Fate is a rich and vivid account of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.
On its completion in 1960, Life and Fate was suppressed by the KGB. Twenty years later, the novel was smuggled out of the Soviet Union on microfilm. At the centre of this epic novel looms the battle of Stalingrad. Within a world torn apart by ideological tyranny and war, Grossman’s characters must work out their destinies. Chief among these are the members of the Shaposhnikov family – Lyudmila, a mother destroyed by grief for her dead son; Viktor, her scientist-husband who falls victim to anti-semitism; and Yevgenia, forced to choose between her love for the courageous tank-commander Novikov and her duty to her former husband. Life and Fate is one of the great Russian novels of the 20th century, and the richest and most vivid account there is of what the Second World War meant to the Soviet Union.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1961, this epic WWII Russian novel about the battle of Stalingrad was seized for being ``anti-Soviet'' by the KGB; it was finally published almost 20 years after the author's death, when a dissident publisher smuggled a microfilm copy to the West. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Grossman (1905-64) hoped that Life and Fate (1960), the sequel to his World War II novel In a Just Cause (Za Pra voe delo, 1954; no English translation), would appear in the USSR. Even dur ing the 1960s ``thaw,'' that proved im possible. The translator compares the book to War and Peace , but it is closer to Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle in portraying a society that knows neither physical nor spiritual peace. Grossman uses one family's experiences of the months of the Stalingrad campaign to show the entire mad tapestry woven by Stalin and Hitler. Like Solzhenitsyn, he depicts laboratories, prisons, and the Soviet elite's uneasy privilege, but he also covers both sides of the front and follows Jews to the gas chambers. This sprawling, uneven novel is wrenching, and compelling in its portrait of loyal citizens who repel the Nazi invaders only to face renewed repression at home. Mary F. Zirin, Altadena, Cal.
From the Publisher

"Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR" --Martin Amis

#1 on Antony Beevor's "Five Best of World War II Fiction" list —The Wall Street Journal, 11/21/09

“One of the greatest works of literature to come out of Russia during the 20th century, Life and Fate could be looked at as the closest thing the Second World War had to a War and Peace. An absolute sprawling and haunting masterpiece that should be on every list.” —Flavorwire

“A delightfully readable 2006 translation by Robert Chandler, this edition preserves nearly all the color of Russian sayings and dark humor while remaining a devastating portrait of Stalin's Russia. Grossman shows how Russian communism was a moral and ideological dead end, an almost exact counterpart to Hitler's Nazism that was preordained from the moment Lenin began killing his opponents instead of talking to them…In the end, he leads the reader to the inescapable conclusion that Communism, like Nazism, had only one goal: power. Coming from a man who once sat in on the privileged inner circles of this government, as an acclaimed journalist and author, this is a devastating message indeed.” —Forbes

"A chronicle of the past century's two evil engines of destruction-Soviet communism and German fascism-the novel is dark yet earns its right to depression. But it depresses in the way that all genuinely great art does-through an unflinching view of the truth, which includes all the awfulness of which human beings are capable and also the splendor to which in crises they can attain. A great book, a masterpiece, Life and Fate is a book only a Russian could write." -Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal

“The greatest Russian novel of the 20th century…. Life and Fate will continue to dazzle and inspire—as unerring a moral guide today as it was 50 years ago.” —Foreign Policy

"It's a masterpiece." -Frederic Raphael

"Grossman's depiction of Soviet citizens as they struggle to survive is magnificent. Life and Fate has been called the greatest Russian novel of the 20th Century. I agree." --Daytona Beach News

"World War II’s War and Peace. Written (mainly) from the vantage point of a Soviet Jew, this masterpiece was judged far too ambivalent in its treatment of the 'Great Patriotic War' to be published in the author’s lifetime." --Niall Ferguson, The New York Times [for the article War: A Reader's Guide]

"Life and Fate is not only a brave and wise book; it is also written with Chekhovian subtlety." --Prospect Magazine

“...a classic of 20th century Russian literature.” –The New York Times

“Grossman’s account of Soviet life – penal, military and civilian – is encyclopedic and unblinkered...enormously impressive...A significant addition to the great library of smuggled Russian works.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Takes its place beside The First Circle and Doctor Zhivago as a masterful evocation of the fate of Russia as it is expressed through the lives of its people.”—USA Today

“Among the most damning indictments of the Soviet system ever written...”—The Wall Street Journal

“To read Life and Fate is, among other things, to have some sense of how it feels not to be free...In more ways than one, Life and Fate is a testament to the strength of character that terrorized human souls are capable of attaining. It is a noble book.”— The Wall Street Journal

“Read it, and rejoice that the 20th century has produced so thoughtful and so profound a literary humanist.The sufferings and self-revelations of these characters provide us with some of the most troubling and occasionally uplifting examinations of the human heart to be found in contemporary literature. A novel for all time.”—Washington Post Book World

“[an] extraordinarily dark portrait of Soviet society.”—David Remnick, The Washington Post

“Fascinating and powerful...Life and Fate does something that, as far as I know, no other novel has tried to do fully - and that is to portray believing Soviet Communists as ordinary characters, rather than as predictable embodiments of evil.”—Vogue

Life and Fate has no equals in contemporary Russian literature...I would go so far as to say that Grossman in Life and Fate is the first free voice of the Soviet nation.”—Commentary

“Vasily Grossman's novel ostensibly concerns World War II, which he covered as a Soviet war correspondent. But his true subject is the power of kindness—random, banal or heroic—to counter the numbing dehumanization of totalitarianism….By the novel's end, both communism and fascism are reduced to ephemera; instinctive kindness, whatever the consequences, is what makes us human.” – Linda Grant, The Wall Street Journal blog

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Vasily Grossman (1905—1964) was born in Berdichev in present-day Ukraine, the home of one of the largest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. After studying chemistry and working as a mining engineer, he was discovered by Maxim Gorky, whose support enabled him to begin publishing his writing. Grossman was a combat correspondent during World War II, covering the defense of Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, and writing the first account in any language of a German death camp. Although the manuscript for Life and Fate was initially seized and suppressed by the KGB in 1960, and Grossman did not live to see it published, it was smuggled out of the USSR a decade later with the help of Andrei Sakharov and Vladimir Voinovich. The novel was eventually published throughout Europe and North America in the early 1980s; it appeared in Russia in 1988. A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941—1945, a collection of Grossman’s journalistic writings and notebook entries, was published in 2006.

Robert Chandler is the translator of selections of Sappho and Apollinaire, as well as of Pushkin’s Dubrovsky and Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. His co-translations of Andrey Platonov have won several prizes in both the UK and the US. He is the editor of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida; his most recent translation is of Hamid Ismailov’s The Railway.

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Life and Fate 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
SamKaplan More than 1 year ago
Maybe it is and maybe it's not. After all, there's Proust, there's Ulysses. But it's definitely the War and Peace of the 20th century - a long, profoundly detailed, anguished, and completely absorbing account of the Soviet Union during WW II that does not hide from the horrors of what looks more and more like the Dark Ages - Stalinist repression, war itself, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. It sounds grim and it is but it is the most compelling novel I've read in years and am amazed that it is not far more famous. If I wanted someone to know about the 20th century and could assign only one book, it would be this one, even before Joyce or Proust.
Rob0NY More than 1 year ago
Definitely one of the best books I've ever read. Grossman brings a reporter's eye for detail to this awesome work of fiction. That fact he was a war reporter no doubt helps him write with such richness and I believe he draws from his own experiences. But this is far more than a war novel. It's very Russian in it's sweep and variety of characters. What truly amazes me about it is that Grossman can put you in some truly awful scenes -- walking into a death camp, in the front lines at Stalingrad, dealing with the chilling combination of pettiness and deadliness that was the Stalinist be bureaucracy. And rather than having to put it down and give, he's such a good writer you can't help but plow on. And then there's the fact that Grossman -- in spite of everything -- seems convinced that humanity can't ever be completely crushed. Anyway, if you are bothering to read this review, you should get this book. Everyone I've known who's read it is blown away by Life and Fate.
DallasFabulously More than 1 year ago
Life and Fate is an amazing book. The writing is fabulous and the plot, although unstructured, is great. It is the story of a Russian family in World War II. In the beginning there is no real sense of plot but it still manages to keep the reader interested. The writing is great, managing to give a real feel of the time period. The translation by Robert Chandler is a little bit slow in the beginning pages because of the length of the first few sentences but quickly gets better. By the end of the book it feels like the reader is no longer reading a translation but what the author originally wrote. The characters are realistic and the dialogue is very lifelike. Overall, Life And Fate is a brilliant book. Anyone that is interested in Russian history or World War II should definitely read this terrific book. Reviewed by: Noah Famously
Guest More than 1 year ago
This masterpiece published by New York Review of Books Classics enters my Top 5 among novels by James Joyce 'Ulysses', Proust 'La Recherche du Temps Perdu', Tolstoy 'War and Peace' and Gaddis 'JR': it is pure genius in its epic scope. Inspired by Tolstoy's War and Peace and the siege of Russia by Napoleon, Grossman depicts the siege of Stalingrad by Hitler. Grossman narrates the epic from the perspectives of diverse players into whose lives the reader becomes immersed. The cast is vast and the Russian names are daunting to track but Grossman enables us to understand what it was like to experience the fate of Russians in World War II. The catastrophe was overwhelming as millions of people's lives were adversely impacted by the power of two great warring states on the front lines of Stalingrad. Yet somehow the resourcefulness, courage, strength, faith and every virtue of her people, tested under the worst human conditions, Russia was able to withstand the siege of Hitler only to suffer subsequently the immense cruelty of Stalin. The writing in this novel is nothing short of magnificent: it is great literature and profound philosophy by a novelist who knew his subject thoroughly. It's no wonder that Stalin wanted not only the manuscript but its carbon copies because the truth evident in this novel was certainly starkly and baldly critical of the State. At the end of the novel an old woman, Alexandra Vladmirovna, who to me symbolized Mother Russia, returns to the ruins of her home in Stalingrad and admires the spring sky wondering: 'why the future of those she loved was so obscure and the past so full of mistakes, not realizing that this very obscurity and unhappiness concealed a strange hope and clarity, not realizing that in the depths of her soul she already knew the meaning of both her life and the lives of her nearest and dearest, not realizing that even though neither she herself nor any of them could tell what was in store, even though they all knew too well that at times like these no man can forge his own happiness and that fate alone has the power to pardon and chastise, to raise up to glory and to plunge into need, to reduce a man to labour camp dust, nevertheless neither fate, nor history, nor the anger of the State, nor the glory or infamy of battle has any power to affect those who call themselves human beings. No, whatever life holds in store -- hard won glory, poverty and despair, or death in a labour camp --they live as human beings and die as human beings, the same as those who have already perished: and in this alone lies man's eternal and bitter victory over all the grandiose and inhuman forces that ever have been or ever will be...' The translation by Robert Chandler was as masterful as the original writing itself: Chandler was articulate, true to the text and humble in bringing to light without affectation or coyness or ego the profundity of this master work. I wish there had been maps of the front lines, which I found on the Internet to help me gain my bearings with unfamiliar geography. Having read War and Peace, Grossman gives the master, Tolstoy, a real run for his money in this epic: don't let this masterpiece pass you by! It's a novel fated to change your life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Probably the masterpiece of 20th century Russian Literature. Epic story, moving prose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book! I don't usually find myself reading history, let alone Russian history, but once I started I couldn't put this book down. I particularly liked how Grossman went right to the heart of the people. As someone who grew up after World War II, it was hard for me to imagine what life must have been like during Stalin's reign, and during the battle for Stalingrad. The characters, as portrayed in this book, led you through their lives and the effects of war, Facism, socialism, the 'state' and anti-Semitism on them. I found it very readable, very sad, and very moving.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WWII in 1942 described by the witness, who is both a genius observer and a very good man. After first few chapters you begin to realize you can believe every word in this book. It's written as a fiction, but it's not. Every character is absolutely real, every story is a recount of millions similar real life stories Long Russian names are somewhat difficult to read at the beginning, but then you get used to it.
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