Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

August 2022

This book is epic in every respect - length, scope, intention, effect.

It had been on my radar for a while, and then I read a long essay about it in the Financial Times a few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine (again) and I thought “I really must get my hands on this book”. And as fate (hah!) would have it, I found a pristine second-hand copy in a local bookstore about a week later.

It’s an account of the early 1940s (set during the battle of Stalingrad), written in the 1950s, banned in the Soviet Union and first published in 1980 in the West, long after the author had died. It has a huge cast of characters and a lot of different settings, and I can’t pretend that I was actually able to keep to keep track of them all. But the (oppressive) atmosphere of the book is very striking, and I was moved to tears at times.

Vasily Grossman was born to a Ukrainian Jewish family and worked as a front-line reporter during WWII, so he had first-hand experience of the horrors of war and totalitarianism of multiple kinds. His experiences are very much present in the book, and they resonate all the more today as Ukraine has once again become a battleground. It’s not light reading by any measure, but I’m glad to have finally tackled it.

Further reading…