Vasily Grossman

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Vasily Semyonovich Grossman (December 12, 1905September 14, 1964) was a prominent Soviet-era writer and journalist.


Life and Fate (1959)[edit]

  • The more difficult a man's life had been before the camp, the more furiously he lied. This lie had no practical purpose; it served simply to glorify freedom. How could a man be unhappy outside the camp?
    • Chapter 2, page 5
  • National Socialism had created a new type of political criminals: criminals who had not committed a crime.
    • Chapter 2, page 5


From Vasily Grossman’s transcript of his conversation with M.A. Suslov, member of the Presidium of the CPSU in charge of ideology. The conversation took place on July 23, 1962:

  • We are restoring the Leninist norms of democracy. But Leninist norms are not the same as the bourgeois norms of democracy. You know yourself: when Gorky—affected by traumatic impressions, deprivation, hunger and housing difficulties in the first years after October—abandoned his revolutionary position, Lenin did not hesitate to close down his newspaper Novaia zhizn’.
  • You believe that we have violated the principle of freedom in your case. Yes, this is so if one understands freedom in the bourgeois sense of the term. But we have a different conception of freedom. Our understanding of freedom is not identical to the one in the capitalist world—as the right to do anything without taking into account the interests of society. Only the imperialists and millionaires need this kind of freedom.
  • Our Soviet writer must be guided in his world only by the need of the people, useful for the society.
  • I have not read your novel but I have carefully read the reviews of your manuscript, responses to it, which contain many excerpts from your novel. Look how many quotes from them I have written down.
  • Everyone who has read your book are unanimous in their judgment. They all think it is politically harmful for us. There is no point in giving it for an evaluation to the writers Fedin, Leonov, Ehrenburg, etc. The reviewers could have made a mistake in their aesthetic judgment but they were unanimous in their political judgment, and I have no doubt that their political judgment is absolutely correct.
  • It is impossible to publish your book, and it will not be published in the next 200 years.
  • No, we have not destroyed it. Let it sit. We cannot change its fate.
  • We should not underestimate the harm it would bring should it be published.
  • Why should we add your book to the atomic weapons arrayed against us by our enemies. Publication of your book would help our enemies.
  • We would only multiply the number of victims. Our duty is to strengthen the state and defend the people, why, then, should we publish your book.
  • Your book contains direct analogies between us and the Hitlerite fascists. You book incorrectly describes our people, communists. Could we have won the war with the kind of people you describe? In your book you say positive things about religion, God, Catholicism. Your book defends Trotsky. You book is full of doubts about the legitimacy of our Soviet system.
  • You know what enormous harm we have been dealt by the publication of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Everybody who has read your book, everybody who has seen the reviews are convinced that the potential harm from your “Life and Fate” would be far more dangerous than that of Doctor Zhivago.

Quotes about Life and Fate[edit]

  • More than 50 years after the great novel “Life and Fate” was confiscated, the Federal Security Service transferred the complete archives and original manuscript of the novel by Vasily Grossman, making it available for study. Now, researchers can study several drafts as well as previously unpublished chapters.
    Vasily Grossman wrote his famous novel "Life and Fate" over a decade - from 1950 to 1960. But like many Soviet authors, he never saw it published in his lifetime. The work, considered by many scholars to be the greatest Russian novel about World War II, was considered anti-Soviet for its unfiltered view of Stalin, his henchmen, and regime.
    In 1961, the KGB searched Grossman’s Moscow apartment and seized not only the typewritten copies of the novel, but the original manuscript, and with it all his sketches and previous drafts. Grossman was very depressed by the finality of this act—the complete censorship and confiscation of his work.
  • In autumn 2011 on BBC Radio 4 BBC produced a 13-episode radio play based on the novel "Life and Fate" which became a bestseller in the U.K. In Russia in 2012, the novel was filmed as a television series that aired nationally. Its premiere was successful of the audience: according to research firm TNS Russia, bringing in about 20 percent of Moscow viewers 18 and over.
  • There are novels I have re-read after 30 or 40 years that have shocked me with ideas which evidently made such a strong impression they ceased to be someone else’s thoughts and became my own... But only one book had such a decisive impact that I can date to it a profound alteration in my worldview and even behaviour. I read Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate in 2003... It took me three weeks to read it and three weeks to recover from the experience, during which time I could barely breathe. Grossman was a Soviet Jewish journalist who covered the battle of Stalingrad and the liberation of the Treblinka extermination camp. After the war he wrote this epic novel. Life and Fate is a Soviet War and Peace, in which every aspect of society radiates out from the central characters... Grossman saw the individual as a novelist does. “Human groupings have one main purpose,” he wrote, “to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way … The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and his right to these peculiarities.” The tolerance of difference is his message, not an assault on society or the state.
  • People are placed in invidious situations, like Shtrum, cornered by Stalin. Few are heroes. But these acts of kindness recur throughout the novel, not in any context other than the spur of the moment. Kindness alleviates some of the horrors of war.
    Like many of my generation, I’d been shaped by ideas; by a number of -isms, socialism and feminism above all. I saw the world in terms of various us and them groupings. After reading Life and Fate they seemed to matter less. Grossman wasn’t advocating Christian saintliness, and was far from perfect in his own life. But if, even in the horror of war, you can alleviate suffering through some extraordinary action (volunteering to go to the gas chamber to hold the hand of a child so he won’t have to die alone), how easy might it be to behave with less anger, cynicism, irritation or sneery dismissiveness? And that’s what I have tried to do. Life and Fate is a daunting undertaking, but for those who finish it the experience is profound. Few novels that set out to change the world succeed; this one merely changed me.
    • Grossman’s Life and Fate took me three weeks to read – and three to recover, Linda Grant, The Guardian, (26 Aug 2014)

External links[edit]

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