Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
by Vasily Grossman, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
An NYRB Classics Original
Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate has been hailed as a twentieth-century War and Peace. However, Life and Fate is only the second half of a two-part work, the first half of which was published in 1952. Grossman wanted to call this earlier work Stalingrad—as it will be in this first English translation—but it was published as For a Just Cause. The characters in both novels are largely the same and so is the story line; Life and Fate picks up where Stalingrad ends, in late September 1942. The first novel is in no way inferior to Life and Fate; the chapters about the Shaposhnikov family are both tender and witty, and the battle scenes are vivid and moving. One of the most memorable chapters of Life and Fate is the last letter written from a Jewish ghetto by Viktor Shtrum’s mother—a powerful lament for East European Jewry. The words of this letter do not appear in Stalingrad, yet the letter’s presence makes itself powerfully felt and it is mentioned many times. We learn who carries it across the front lines, who passes it on to whom, and how it eventually reaches Viktor. Grossman describes the difficulty Viktor experiences in reading it and his inability to talk about it even to his family. The absence of the letter itself is eloquent—as if its contents are too awful for anyone to take in.
Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR.
Vasily Grossman was a man of unusual courage, both physically and morally. He spent longer than any other Soviet journalist in the thick of the fighting on the right bank of the Volga, in the ruins being fought over building by building and even room by room. And then, within months of the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, he was writing some of the first articles and stories published in any language about the Shoah.
A half century after his death, Vasily Grossman’s fiction still provides harrowing insight into the legacy of Stalinism, and the historical trauma that continues to fuel ethnic tensions within Ukraine.