Life and Fate

By Vasily Grossman,

Book cover of Life and Fate

Book description

Based around the pivotal WWII battle of Stalingrad (1942-3), where the German advance into Russia was eventually halted by the Red Army, and around an extended family, the Shaposhnikovs, and their many friends and acquaintances, Life and Fate recounts the experience of characters caught up in an immense struggle between…

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Why read it?

7 authors picked Life and Fate as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Grossman consciously attempted to write the War and Peace of the Second World War, and in this panoramic masterpiece, he pulled it off. Like War and Peace, the book focuses both on the travails of a single family and the broader sweep of history, as we witness events from the perspective of persecuted Jewish scientists, soldiers (both Soviet and German), partisans, peasants, and generals.

This is an intensely personal work – Grossman covered the battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press and knew his subject matter firsthand. Writing it was also an extremely courageous act. The KGB confiscated the manuscript…

From Paul's list on life in the Soviet Union.

A sweeping novel of the Soviet Union’s ‘Great Patriotic War,’ told through the lives of the fictional Shaposikova family, but with historical figures including Hitler and Stalin making guest appearances. Grossman was a journalist and war reporter, but the novel, which was critical of Stalin, was not published until 1980. The book ranges widely, taking in life (and death) in Soviet cities, gulags, and—in the book’s most devastating passages—German concentration camps. Weaving together individual stories with grand events, the novel is a cry for the small acts of kindness and resistance that individuals are capable of in the most extreme…

From Lucy's list on civilians in war.

Grossman’s fictionalised expression of his experiences at the 1943 Battle of Stalingrad is one of the great Soviet novels of the 20th century. Humane and profound, it offers an insight into what World War II, and Stalingrad in particular, means to Russia. As sweeping in scale as War and Peace (and probably more challenging to read if only for the sheer number of characters and names to remember) this is a book that requires intense concentration but rewards the effort.

This is an epic exposition about Russia during World War II at the height of the German invasion, culminating in the crucial turning point of the Battle of Stalingrad.

Like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Life and Fate (and Grossman’s more focused volume, Stalingrad), the unfolding plot centers on an extended family’s responses to these traumatic events. Grossman was a war correspondent (perhaps more vividly captured in his Stalingrad) who also was one of the first to visit concentration camps, so his novel has both wide sweep and richly observed details about its title’s human condition.

Written in 1959 by a journalist who was among the first to document the atrocities taking place in the East, Life and Fate, is much more than a book about the Holocaust. In the epic style of War and Peace, Grossman’s novel captures the mood in the Soviet Union during the terrible years of 1942-1943 through the perspective of a single fictional extended family. The narrative situates the genocide of the Jews within the context of the war and the Stalinist repressions. 

From Jeffrey's list on the Holocaust in Ukraine.

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…

Sometimes a work of fiction can convey the drama and emotions of an era more powerfully than even the best works of history. Vasily Grossman’s novel is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the Soviet experience of the Second World War. Grossman, who had spent much of the war embedded with the Red Army, recreates the sights, smells, sounds, and sensations (“the distortion of the sense of time”) of life on the front lines. The book is also a reflection on what it meant to be caught between Stalinism and Nazism. “And in 1937 there were times when we…

From Francine's list on The experience of Soviet Soldiers in WW2.

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