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John Connelly: Stalin’s Infantry

22 June 2006
Ivan’s War: The Red Army 1939-45 
by Catherine Merridale.
Faber, 396 pp., £20, October 2005, 0 571 21808 3
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A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman​ with the Red Army 1941-45 
edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova.
Harvill, 378 pp., £20, September 2005, 9781843430551
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... From this point on, Soviet forces, with steady supplies of matériel and men, pushed the Germans slowly westward. By late 1943 they reached the prewar boundaries of the Soviet Union. According to VasilyGrossman, one of the finest Russian writers of the past century, whose eyewitness reports from the front form a historical source unparalleled in its immediacy, the troops’ behaviour now changed ...

Good Day, Comrade Shtrum

John Lanchester: Vasily Grossman’s Masterpiece

18 October 2007
Life and Fate 
by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert Chandler.
Vintage, 864 pp., £9.99, October 2006, 0 09 950616 5
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... from the modern to the postmodern: there is something pastiche-like about a great many contemporary writers, not least those who write in a personal voice which is in itself a variety of pastiche. VasilyGrossman’s masterpiece Life and Fate is fascinating for many reasons, and one of them is the way that it is both a pastiche and a personal statement; a conscious, cold-blooded attempt to sum up ...

Off the record

John Bayley

19 September 1985
Life and Fate 
by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert Chandler.
Collins, 880 pp., £15, September 1985, 0 00 261454 5
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... alien to the spirit of Soviet Russia which its literature wishes to present, and which is indeed presented in big-scale socialist realist novels, good and bad, from Sholokhov’s Quiet Don to Grossman’s Life and Fate. Grossman’s method is indeed socialist realism, used with a wholly Tolstoyan truth and honesty. This itself makes a disturbing, an explosive mixture. But where creating ...


Jeremy Treglown

6 August 1992
Writers on World War Two: An Anthology 
edited by Mordecai Richler.
Chatto, 752 pp., £18.99, February 1992, 0 7011 3912 9
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Legacies and Ambiguities: Post-war Fiction and Culture in West Germany and Japan 
edited by Ernestine Schlant and Thomas Rimer.
Woodrow Wilson Center Press/Johns Hopkins, 323 pp., $35, February 1992, 0 943875 30 7
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... and in doing so can both console us and prevent us from becoming inured. But writers still keep on trying. Peter Porter, Martin Amis, the American cartoonist Art Spiegelman and the Soviet dissident VasilyGrossman are among the many who have done so for the Holocaust although none was ever an inmate of the camps. Of the four, Grossman came closest: born in 1905, a Jew, he spent the war as a reporter ...


John Barber

29 October 1987
Socialism, Peace and Democracy: Writings, Speeches and Reports 
by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Zwan, 210 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 1 85305 011 3
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by Zhores Medvedev.
Blackwell, 314 pp., £5.95, May 1987, 0 631 15880 4
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The Sixth Continent: Russia and Mikhail Gorbachov 
by Mark Frankland.
Hamish Hamilton, 292 pp., £12.95, June 1987, 0 241 12122 1
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Shadows and Whispers: Power Politics inside the Kremlin from Brezhnev to Gorbachev 
by Dusko Doder.
Harrap, 349 pp., £12.95, July 1987, 0 245 54577 8
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Pravda: Inside the Soviet News Machine 
by Angus Roxburgh.
Gollancz, 285 pp., £16.95, May 1987, 0 575 03734 2
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Utopia in Power: A History of the USSR from 1917 to the Present 
by Michel Heller and Aleksandr Nekrich.
Hutchinson, 877 pp., £25, August 1987, 0 09 155620 1
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... poems about his time in Stalinist prisons and camps, poems by long ignored émigrés or opponents such as Nikolai Gumilyev, Georgy Ivanov, Vladislav Khodosevich, and prose works by Mikhail Bulgakov, VasilyGrossman, Anatoly Platonov and Yevgeny Zamyatin. Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, for publishing which abroad he was expelled from the Writers’ Union in 1958, is due to appear next year; and publication ...

Dun-Coloured Dust

Thomas de Waal: Russia’s war

15 July 1999
Russia's War 
by Richard Overy.
Penguin, 416 pp., £8.99, July 1999, 0 14 027169 4
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by Antony Beevor.
Viking, 512 pp., £12.99, May 1999, 0 14 024985 0
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... At the heart of VasilyGrossman’s great novel of the Second World War, Life and Fate, is an unforgettable depiction of a house cut off from the frontline in Stalingrad. A group of soldiers and civilians are stranded in no man’s ...

Make them go away

Neal Ascherson: Grossman’s Failure

3 February 2011
To the End of the Land 
by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen.
Cape, 577 pp., £18.99, September 2010, 978 0 224 08999 9
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... when they actually get down to its pages, will leave many readers puzzled. Normally an author can deflect blurb hyperbole with a wince. But this fanfare has been on a Hollywood Bowl scale that does Grossman, who has proved himself in the past to be a wise and talented writer, no favours at all. ‘To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be ...
1 October 1987
Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky 
by Patrick Hamilton.
Hogarth, 528 pp., £4.95, June 1987, 0 7012 0751 5
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Trust Me 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 249 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 394 55833 2
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Her Story: A Novel 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 142 pp., £8.95, August 1987, 0 233 98116 0
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... is a big difference between a story like Kipling’s ‘The Gardener’, which uses a subtle narrative ploy as well as a Biblical image to reveal a state of bereavement, and the simple way in which VasilyGrossman did the same thing in his novel about the Russian war, Life and Fate. Jacobson’s approach in Her Story is much closer to the latter, in spite of the way in which he sets up his situation ...

Hitler’s Teeth

Neal Ascherson: Berlin 1945

28 November 2002
Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 
by Antony Beevor.
Viking, 490 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 670 88695 5
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... material – soldiers’ letters home, security reports, officers’ private diaries – from the Russian archives. Two personal narratives stand out. The first is the notebooks of the novelist VasilyGrossman, found by Beevor in the Russian State Archive for Literature. A great writer moving forward with the armies put down unsparingly what he saw and heard: burning towns collapsing on drunken ...
28 November 2002
Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia 
by Orlando Figes.
Allen Lane, 729 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 7139 9517 3
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... of the Russian people. As the Cold War heated up, a campaign against ‘cosmopolitanism’ placed everyone of Jewish origin in jeopardy, including some very eminent figures. In Life and Fate (1980), VasilyGrossman, who had won fame as a war correspondent, depicted the Soviet and Nazi regimes as parallel; the book was first published in Switzerland more than twenty years after his death. The central ...

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