Life and Fate
By Vasily Grossman
Why this book?
A philosophical novel, Life and Fate tells about the generation in Europe, which had experienced twin dictatorships and World War II. If timely published, it would have appeared simultaneously with Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and before Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag. But in 1961 Grossman’s masterpiece was seized by the KGB. Smuggled to the West in microfilm, the novel appeared in English in 1985 and was hailed as the twentieth century’s War and Peace. Structured to resemble Tolstoy’s novel about the 1812 invasion of Russia by Napoleon, Life and Fate shows a strikingly different world. Grossman’s characters fight in Stalingrad, are marched to Treblinka’s gas chamber, and work on a Soviet nuclear project. Life and Fate exposes the similarities between the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian systems. Under Hitler and Stalin people are divided into categories—to be kept or to be destroyed. Yet totalitarian violence proves powerless to suppress the kernel of humanity in one’s heart.
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