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.