Life and Fate

This is the novel that Vasily Grossman saw “arrested”. After he submitted it to the censors, and they realized the parallels in the novel between Nazi Germany and the USSR, they seized the copy. Having learned their mistake from Pasternak, they also sent NKVD to Grossman’s house to find every last scrap of notes and carbon paper related to the work, not wanting to risk the document seeing the light of day. They did however let Grossman go, he had performed service to the Soviet and was shuttled off to Armenia where he wrote an extraordinary book which is his best.

Life and Fate is like Dostoevsky, or perhaps like Solzhenitsyn. Epic and sweeping – the plot pace of a tortoise, it moves like molasses on a winter’s Russian day. Russian novelists insistence upon writing 800 page novels is something to also be thought about. It’s almost as if it should be as hard to read them as the experiences portrayed on the pages are to live through.

Lev Gumilev, Ana Akhmatova’s son, wrote about the concept of ‘passionarity‘ – which summed up is the idea of Russian people’s ability to withstand great tribulation; that this tribulation is not failure but instead a demonstration of their tremendous stoicism and if they hold out long enough they will win out in the end. Gold, purified by fire. These novels all resonate, reverberate with passionarity. Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? This has been an American idea. I think maybe its the wrong question – perhaps… Does art reinforce that which people understand as the meaning of life? If so, Putin’s war seen through the lens of Grossman and Turgenev and Sholokhov should not surprise us.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Life and Fate

  1. Just out of college, a buddy and I traveled Europe for a few weeks. $250 Round trip air, $250 Eurail pass (unlimited rail travel), $250 to live on. It was 1978. Anyway, we concluded that to really experience a place you must suffer a little. I think this is related to the 800 page novels in multiple ways. I have an affinity for the Russians because my own life has always seemed to move at that slow pace. Thus, I cannot identify with the cartoon characters in popular movies….give me some Turgenev, some Pushkin, or some Oblomov and I will happily wade the molasses with them.

    Also, I’ve recently read about Suvorov’s contention that Stalin planned to invade Germany before Hitler embarked on Barbarossa….so the idea of parallels between Germany and the USSR took on a whole new meaning!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s