Life and Fate by Vasili Grossman

Vasili Grossman (12 December 1905 ‚Äď 14 September 1964, was a Soviet Russian writer and journalist. A Ukrainian Jew,¬†he was trained as an engineer and worked in the Donets Basin, but changed his career in the 1930s and published short stories and several novels. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he became a war correspondent for the Red Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda, writing first hand accounts of the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk and Berlin. Grossman’s eyewitness accounts of conditions in a Nazi extermination camp, following the liberation of Treblinka, were among the earliest.

Grossman’s magnum opus, of 1959,¬†is Life and Fate. Its subject is the Nazi invasion of Russia and the siege of Stalingrad (¬†Presented as a¬†sprawling account of life on the Eastern Front,¬†it has¬†numerous plotlines taking place simultaneously all across Russia and Eastern Europe. Although each story has a linear progression, the events are not¬†always presented in chronological order. Grossman may introduce a character, then ignore that character for hundreds of pages, returning to recount events that took place the very next day.¬†The novel is impossible to summarize concisely.¬†There are, however, 3 basic stories:¬†that of the Shtrum/Shapashnikov family, the siege of Stalingrad, and life in the camps of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

This is twentieth century historical fiction on a vast canvas. It is a book one needs to clear a big space in one’s mind for. It describes with unsparing realism¬†the full horror of the epic events which convulsed the world last century.¬†As such, the novel stands as one¬†of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.

An English-language radio adaptation of the novel was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from 18 to 25 September 2011 ( Translated by Robert Chandler and dramatized by Jonathan Myerson and Mike Walker, the eight-hour dramatization stars Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant, Janet Suzman, Greta Scacchi and Harriet Walter. One option would be to listen to this first before making the commitment to read the novel.

For the novel enquire at your local library or consult for full bibliographic detail

If you would prefer to read straight history of Stalingrad (also on a vast scale and in immense detail) reach for Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad (

912 pages in Vintage Classics

First published 1959

ISBN 978-0099506164

Vassili Grossman

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