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Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman (1959)

A suppressed portrait of Soviet life

by
David Bezmozgis
September 17, 2013

As its title suggests, Grossman intended Life and Fate to be the War and Peace of its day. Set mostly during the Battle of Stalingrad, and ranging from the battlefields of the Eastern front to the salons of Moscow and the frozen wastes of the Gulag, it presents a kaleidoscopic account of Soviet life of the time. It was the first Soviet novel to make the provocative comparison between Stalinism and Nazism, and it was also the first novel to honestly depict the nature of the Shoah on Soviet soil. The novel’s fate is nearly as tragic as the story it tells. In 1960, during Khrushchev’s thaw, Grossman submitted it to the Soviet authorities for publication. They responded by confiscating every copy of the novel they could find, including the carbons and the typewriter ribbons Grossman had used to write it. Grossman didn’t live to see the book published. He died of stomach cancer in 1964. In 1980, Life and Fate was published in the West; in 1988, it appeared in the Soviet Union.

David Bezmozgis is the author of The Betrayers and the collection Natasha and Other Stories.

David Bezmozgis is the author of The Betrayers and the collection Natasha and Other Stories.

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