Life and Fate

Life and Fate


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A book judged so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only the manuscript but the ribbons on which it had been typed were confiscated by the state, Life and Fate is an epic tale of World War II and a profound reckoning with the dark forces that dominated the twentieth century.

Interweaving a transfixing account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia, Vasily Grossman fashions an immense, intricately detailed tapestry depicting a time of almost unimaginable horror and even stranger hope.

Life and Fate juxtaposes bedrooms and snipers’ nests, scientific laboratories and the Gulag, taking us deep into the hearts and minds of characters ranging from a boy on his way to the gas chambers to Hitler and Stalin themselves.

This novel of unsparing realism and visionary moral intensity is one of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590172018
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 05/16/2006
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 896
Sales rank: 38,928
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.87(d)

About 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 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 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.
rory1000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite simply one of the best books I have ever read. Certainly is worth investing time in, and this includes reading any Soviet history before hand, as this will vastly increase the enjoyment of Life and Fate.
john257hopper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a monumental novel, worthy of the description that has sometimes been applied to it of being the twentieth century's War and Peace. It details a range of suffering and cruelties, both large and petty, on all sides. Many of the day to day details of Stalinism are here: the constant presence of denunciations and the way small events can make or break someone's life, such as the central character of Viktor Shtrum falling due to his contacts with non-Russian scientists and then rising after a telephone call from Stalin praising his work, or Krymov being arrested and beaten up despite his years of loyal service and belief in the cause. Other particularly memorable sequences include the gas chamber scenes and the dialogue between a Nazi officer and Soviet prisoner Mostovskoy as the former tries and nearly succeeds in convincing his captive that Nazism and Communism are marching in the same direction. I generally find descriptions of actual battle scenes fairly tedious to read, but they are there as they should be and due attention is paid to the significance of Stalingrad as the turning point in leading to the defeat of Nazism.From the Soviet regime's point of view it is hardly surprising Suslov told Grossman it could not be published for 200 years as it goes well beyond criticism of Stalin and destroys the whole raison d'etre of the Soviet regime. In this respect it goes beyond the much better known Doktor Zhivago, an excellent novel but probably more famous in the West very largely because of the superb David Lean film. For me, Life and Fate tops Pasternak's novel as the best Russian novel of the Soviet era.
frogfather on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting, but suffered badly from Russian Novel Syndrome in having too many characters with too many names and bewildering interpersonal relationships.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, the classic epic novel of WWII Russia, centers on the Shaposhnikova family and their life in totalitarian Stalinist Soviet Russia, and in particular on the Battle of Stalingrad, but there are literally dozens of characters in a multitude of settings. The tale is unrelentingly grim. Nearly every character dies, is betrayed to the Soviet authorities, or simply suffers - and no ordinary suffering, but genuine Slavic deprivation. With a few temporary exceptions, universal hunger and material deprivation prevail. Hunger ranges from ever-present to starvation. Political betrayal runs rampant across every class of Stalinist Soviet society with mind-boggling inefficiency. Grossman also describes the very beginnings of the Nazi Holocaust at Treblinka and other extermination camps, including a blood-chilling scene with Eichmann having dinner at the camp to celebrate its opening. Life and Fate is not an easy book to read on several levels. It is long - some 871 pages. It is ceaselessly grim and gritty. Keeping track of the characters and various plot lines is a challenge (The book contains a handy listing of the main characters in an 8-page appendix. For the Western reader, the Russian surnames are hard to keep straight. I recommend keeping an extra bookmark in place at the Appendix). Grossman's characters engage in lengthy intellectual dialogue. For some of these same reasons, the book is also vastly rewarding. As the excellent introduction to the New York Review of Books edition puts it, Life and Fate is "almost an encyclopedia of the complexities of life under totalitarianism" and the pressures brought to bear on the individual. Absolutely the highest recommendation. Five stars don't do it justice.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not a saga, not a tale, this is just a really long book. I suppose historical novel would be appropriate: it dwells at length on politics, tactical war operations, enumerations of humans as examples of misery. What ruined this book for me was the lack of structure: characters come in and out, events happen, points of view are examined but there is no common thread to carefully pull all these elements together. Ultimately, I became very disinterested in the characters' fate, could not identify with any and was bored with the long descriptions. It's a shame because certain passages are brilliantly written, full of human depth and feeling, with complex relationships reflecting the intricacies of human nature. In my opinion, a good editing job is needed - it would certainly make this novel more accessible to me!
fredbacon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1941, the Russian Army stopped the German advance on the west bank of the Volga at Stalingrad. In ferocious fighting, the Russians held the city against an unrelenting assault. Vasily Grossman worked as a reporter covering the siege, interviewing citizens, soldiers, snipers and officers. Almost twenty years later, he fashioned from those recollections this massive novel set in the bunkers of the soldiers, the homes of the noncombatants, and the German death camps. But rather than just offering a patriotic homage to the Russian resistance and eventual victory at Stalingrad, Grossman has constructed a bitter, scathing assessment of the Stalinist state, drawing parallels between the fervor of the Nazi Party members and the Communist Party under Stalin.Vasily Grossman was a Ukranian Jew who studied to be a chemical engineer but turned to writing as a professional career. As he traveled with the Red Army from Stalingrad to Berlin, he was present as the Russians over ran Treblinka. He was one of the first outsiders to investigate the extermination camps of the Germans, gathering stories from the survivors and documenting the attrocities. Horrified by what he learned, and trying to deal with the execution of his own mother by the Germans, he and his fellow Jewish writers worked to document the extermination of the Russian Jewry by the Nazis during the war only to have the publication of their work blocked by the Soviet regime.Life and Fate is a sprawling novel documenting the the lives of Russian citizens at the turning point of Word War II. The novel is filled with sketches of heroic soldiers fighting desperately to hold off the Germans at Stalingrad while the army rebuilds behind them for a counter attack. But heroism and military competence isn't necessarily rewarded in a totalitarian state. The soldiers and officers have as much to fear from the political wing of the military as they do from the Germans. Ideological purity is more important than mere competence. The petty ambitions of political bureaucrats have more influence on the execution of the war than the military judgment of a seasoned tank commander on the scene. Whether he is delaying the start of an offensive to deal with an artillery unit which threatens his tanks or attempting to give his exhausted soldiers a ten hour rest after days of nonstop fighting, he must first fight (and often lose) a political battle with the Party's Commissar.Meanwhile, behind the lines, a nuclear physicist, Victor Schrum, fights his own political battles against the Communist Party when his new theoretical model of nuclear reactions and fission is deemed to be contrary to socialist principles. His situation is made worse by his own arrogance, but the absurdity of his dilemma is all too apparent. The idea that physical science must be ideologically pure is a surrealist nightmare worthy of Kafka. Of course his real problem is that he is Jewish with a German surname at the height of the war. Grossman paints a vivid picture of a man and his family trapped in a tightening net of political persecution and social isolation as friends abandon them for fear of being labeled as enemies of the state. Schrum and his family wait nervously for his inevitable arrest.Perhaps the most gripping parts of the novel deal with the fate of those caught behind the German lines. The wholesale slaughter of Russian Jews at the hands of the Nazis is portrayed in a stark and frank fashion. He follows the work of Jewish prisoners digging up bodies from mass graves to destroy the evidence of genocide by the Nazis. But the most moving portion of the novel is a sequence of chapters following the fate of a train load of Jewish prisoners across the Ukraine to a concentration camp and into the gas chamber itself.Life and Fate is a relentlessly grim, but mesmerizing, portrait of ordinary people ground between the machinery of two totalitarian states at war. It is easy to see why Grossman's novel was "arrested" by the Sovie
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Life and Fate is a literary classic. Picture War and Peace set in the 20th century. Replace Napolean with Hitler and substitute the Shaposhnikov family for the Rostofs. I've read scores of works with a World War II backdrop, but never from this perspective. Never have I seen the war from the viewpoint of the average Russian, at Stalingrad, in the Ukraine, in Moscow and in the death camps. Most jarring is the repressive shadow of Communism and the fear constantly felt by even the most patriotic and loyal party member. Most heart breaking is the astonishing story of Sofya Levinton, her journey to the gas chamber and her "adoption" of the frail, young orphan. It has been said that a death is a shame, a thousand deaths is a tragedy, but twenty million deaths is a statistic (or something to that effect) and it is true. Until we see an event from the perspective of an individual, we cannot grasp the horror and the emotions involved in an historical event with the scale of a Stalingrad or Treblinka. We cannot grasp the fear and trepidation created by a party apparatus such as the 20th century Communist Party. This classic work brings all those emotions and human reactions to bear through the eyes of a typical Russian extended family. Though it is a translation, it flows smoothly and seamlessly. While the plethora of Russian names and nicknames is sometimes confusing, an index of characters in the back of the book assists immeasurably. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.
shawnd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This Russian war novel is so well written, the pure prose, that one could ignore the effort of memorizing the many characters and just focus on sentence, tone, relationships, plot, structure, words. The book does have some length, but if you fall in love with the prose it could just as well be 1700 pages instead of 863. So many threads are left alive at book's end...what of young Nadya and her lieutenant? Will her father survive being a Jew and outlast Stalin? Would Victor ever see Marya again? How would Krymov fare in the camps? It takes place in an incredibly short period of time but deep with implication, energy, action, betrayal, love, and politics. It is perhaps the iconic 20th century Russian novel.Is it like War and Peace? Yes. Is it a rehash of War and Peace? No. Life and Fate has a closer relationship to 19th century Russian novels sharing the selfsame job of delicately handling Stalin and the regime by other authors of that day, and touching on topics of denunciations, allocated living spaces, arrests, Lubyanka, work camps, the Jewish issue, and more. Many Russian novels have many characters with interlocking plots moving back and forth, and to bucket it with Tolstoy doesn't take into account the broader spectrum of a rich mix of authors and eras that make it more nuanced to compare books written more than 50 years apart.
xieouyang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a terrific novel of the siege of Stalingrad. In the spirit of the old Russian novels, Grossman deploys a vast number of characters and images that make this one of the great novels of the 20th century.
michiy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An utterly unforgettable and glorious book. Straightforward and unsentimental writing that somehow manages to pierce you through the heart. A very humanistic and honest account of the WWII in Russia. Read it!
VisibleGhost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An epic in size, scope, and rendition. Grossman lived, worked, and played during the Stalin era. He understood it, was affected by it, and wrote of it with an eye on posterity. Some Soviet writers used satire and allegories to disguise their observations and criticisms of the State. Grossman tackles it head-on with a realist style. He uses archetypes for his main characters and then lets those character's inner conversations and interactions with others expose the different views that made up the lifestyles lived under Stalinism and Nazism. He doesn't play tricks with the language or wander into obscure symbolism. It does require a pretty close reading to keep up with all the names, including the patronymic. Grossman is mostly compared to Tolstoy and Chekhov. I would say that is fair. There is a bit of short episodes for some of the characters and there is the huge overview of an entire country. Though the book was long, I never became bogged down or lost interest. I found myself ready to read a few pages most days. It deserves the kudos and appreciation it has received from many quarters. It's powerful, haunting, and illuminative.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was first published in Switzerland in 1980, long after the author's death in 1964. It is laid in Stalingrad in 1942-and 1943, but also has powerful scenes on Stalin terror procedure and on the Nazi death camps. The book is well worth reading for the striking accounts of terror and war, and probably deserves its being called the greatest Russian novel of the 20th century, even thoiugh it is long and the numerous characters with difficult names do not make for easy reading..
the.ken.petersen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rossini is famously quoted as saying, "Mr. Wagner has beautiful moments but bad quarters of an hour." That summarises my opinion of this book. It is far too long and unremittingly morose but, just when one thinks enough is enough, along comes a gem of an insight into what it probably was like to be at the cutting edge of the Siege of Stalingrad. My main criticism is that, although the proletariat populate the edges of this book, the story is that of the bourgeoisie. I would love to know what the ordinary bloke in the street felt about the war and the rise of Lenin. I suppose that the position of writer automatically means that one gravitates to the chattering classes and that one can, therefore, never get that perspective and Mr Grossman is far from the only writer guilty of this sin.Grossman paints a picture of a Russian people who are desperate to do all they can to remove the threat of Fascism but, are pessimistic about the form of Communism that Stalin is bringing to their own country. Time after time, good party members are arrested on the word of some sycophantic popinjay. I am sure that there were examples of this - just as one can find situations where people receive false justice in the West, because of their wealth or power. I find it difficultto believe that however large the country, any state could become as powerful as Russia, were it to be so incompetent.This book is totally grey. Nobody is allowed to escape the black hole that is the State. Viktor is a scientist who stands up to the machine. He voices his displeasure at the disappearance of free thinkers whose only crime seems to be an odd, often oblique, criticism of state procedure. This leads to him losing his post at the Academy and being on the brink of a one way trip to the Gulags. Fortunately for Viktor, he has made a scientific breakthrough and Stalin calls him, personally, to "check that Viktor has all that he needs to continue his great work" (Stalin cannot apologise because, like a deity, he cannot be in error). Viktor is re-instated and fawned upon by the very people who had denounced him. So, one person who wins, one happy ending? No. Viktor is asked to sign a letter refuting the claims of Western forces, who say that Russian dissidents are mistreated. Tired of fighting, Viktor capitulates, immediately recognises his error and finds himself lost to both friends and the state - more misery. The problem with such unremitting bleakness, is that one becomes inured: a little lightening of the mood would contrast the horror which Grossman wants to represent and make it all the more graphic.
BrianHostad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good read, although can be a little stilted at times, which may be down to the translation. The vast range of characters and inter-realtionship can be quite difficult to follow at times and although there is a list of characters at the end, a family tree would also have been useful.That aside this is a powerful novel that really drags you into Russian mindset, the hopes, the fears, the contradictions of life in Stalin's Russia in 1942-3. This contrasts with the German characters, who seem wooden and one-dimensional in contrast. Although I think Grossman was trying to bring out the similarities, it fails due to the lack of depth in Germans he portrays.The ending leaves many things unresolved for the characters, e.g. what happens to Krymov, which is frustrating and leaves you wondering if Grossman intended a sequel. Overall though, nothing can detract from the majesty of the book, for which there are some truly moving passages, e.g. Viktor's mother's last letter from the ghetto or the death of Sophia in the gas chamber. I don't think I'll forget either passage.
technodiabla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Life and Fate is one of the most insightful and educational books I've ever read. Set in Russia around the defense of Stalingrad in WWII and the immediate aftermath, the book is extremely complex, intense, and articulate. It pays to learn a bit about Grossman's life before beginning and to look up facts, maps, and terms while reading. Life and Fate is engaging and thoroughly thought-provoking. The subtle intricacies and comparisons between variations on Socialism, Communism and Fascism were enlightening and could only have been properly treated by someone like Grossman, who was there and really one of them (Soviet Jew). This is not your standard WWII book that we often read in the West. This is the story of the Eastern Front, which is often overlooked in Western Literature. As a child of the Cold War, I now have a much better understanding of how that era came into existence and some insight into the Soviet mindset. It is a worthy read, if you are willing to put in the time and effort to absorb all it has to offer. I imagine I'll be digesting and mulling it over for some time to come. 5 stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago