While moving my old archive to the website, I came across the “Read” section, which contains books I once read and recommended. Reviving this section made me so excited that I decided to write again.
Vasily Semyonovich Grossman, considered one of the greatest writers of Soviet Russia, was born in 1905 to an assimilated Jewish family in Ukraine. As a result of his family’s financial situation, he got a good education and studied chemical engineering in Moscow. However, his love of literature quickly led him to write novels and plays. With his early works, he was admitted to the Soviet Writers’ Union in 1937, and his novel “Stepan Kol’chugin,” published between 1937 and 1940, was nominated for the Stalin Prize. Despite Stalin’s rejection of his nomination, he had already proved himself.
Grossman’s fate changed during World War II, like hundreds of thousands of others. In addition, he was on the front lines with the Red Army during the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin at that time. During the defense of Stalingrad, Grossman’s writings generated great excitement in the Soviet Union, earning him great respect. In the 1950s, “Life and Fate” was a monumental work of literature.
Unfortunately, this legendary novel was deemed dangerous before its publication. The KGB raided Grossman’s house, confiscated copies, and even destroyed typewriter ribbons. Thanks to a warning from his relatives, Grossman managed to preserve a copy, spending the last ten years of his life under intense pressure from the Soviet regime and never witnessing the publication of most of his works. He died in Moscow in despair in 1964. The surviving copy of “Life and Fate,” which had become a legend in the Soviet Union, was secretly taken out of the country years later and could be published in Switzerland in 1980.
“Life and Fate” is primarily based on Grossman’s experiences during the Battle of Stalingrad, in which he actively participated. Starting in a concentration camp and extending from Moscow to Stalingrad, then to the German atrocities in Ukraine, the story moves between different locations. Literature circles often attribute the narrative to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” but I disagree. I believe that the war’s catastrophe heavily influenced Grossman’s novel’s structure, the tragic deaths of his compatriots, and the numerous inhumane events he encountered, as well as the fact that his mother was one of the genocide victims.
His work, published in the West, especially in France, the UK, and the US, made a significant impact. It portrayed resilient individuals despite all their struggles and providing insight into Stalin’s Russia. Furthermore, the book’s publication stands as a universal testament to the incapacity of oppressive regimes and tyranny to subjugate life and freedom of expression.
For about a month, I read it every day after it was translated into Turkish. However, it was a fantastic achievement for me. “Life and Fate” is a breath of fresh air in today’s popular culture novels.