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Book Review: Vasily Grossman - The Road

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The “Road” edited and presented by Robert Chandler brings together short stories, journalism, essays, and letters by Vasily Grossman, the author of “Life and Fate”, providing new insight into the life and work of this extraordinary writer. The stories range from Grossman’s first success, “In the Town of Berdichev,” a piercing reckoning with the cost of war, to such haunting later works as “Mama,” based on the life of a girl who was adopted at the height of the Great Terror by the head of the NKVD and packed off to an orphanage after her father’s downfall. The girl grows up struggling with the discovery that the parents she cherishes in memory are part of a collective nightmare that everyone else wishes to forget. The collection also includes “The Sistine Madonna,” a reflection on art and atrocity; as well as two heartbreaking letters that Grossman wrote to his mother after her death at the hands of the Nazis and carried with him for the rest of his life.

Finally the “Road” also includes the complete text of Grossman’s harrowing report from Treblinka, one of the first anatomies of the workings of a death camp, used in 1946 as testimony in the Nuremberg trials. Up until now an English-language translation of this article has never been published in its entirety.

Vasily Semyonovich Grossman was born on December 12, 1905, in Berdichev, a Ukrainian town that was home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. In 1934 he published both “In the Town of Berdichev”—a short story that won the admiration of such diverse writers as Maksim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Isaak Babel—and a novel, Glyukauf, about the life of the Donbass miners.

During the Second World War, Grossman worked as a reporter for the army newspaper Red Star, covering nearly all of the most important battles from the defense of Moscow to the fall of Berlin. His wartime writing established him as a major “voice” of war. His vivid yet sober “The Hell of Treblinka” (late 1944), one of the first articles in any language about a Nazi death camp, was translated and used as testimony in the Nuremberg trials.

His novel “For a Just Cause” (originally titled “Stalingrad”) was published in 1952 and then fiercely attacked. A new wave of purges—directed against the Jews—was about to begin; but for Stalin’s death in March 1953, Grossman would almost certainly have been arrested. During the next few years Grossman, while enjoying public success, worked on his two masterpieces, neither of which was to be published in Russia until the late 1980s: “Life and Fate” and “Everything Flows”. The KGB confiscated the manuscript of “Life and Fate” in February 1961. Grossman was able, however, to continue working on “Everything Flows”, a work even more critical of Soviet society than “Life and Fate”, until his last days in the hospital. He died on September 14, 1964, on the eve of the twenty-third anniversary of the massacre of the Jews of Berdichev, in which his mother had died.

The Road
Vasily Grossman,
edited by Robert Chandler, translated from the Russian by Elizabeth Chandler , Robert Chandler, and Olga Mukovnikova
New York 2010
New York Review Books
Pages: 384
ISBN: 9781590173619
Series: NYRB Classics

Found on our Polish partner website "Learning from History"

 

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