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Life and Fate
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Archive > May and June 2014: Life and Fate Part III

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message 1: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
Please use the thread below to comment on Life and Fate : Part III (Page 612 to End).

While you should feel free to post here at any time, we have put together a general reading schedule, focusing on this part between June 11 and June 30.

message 2: by Chuck (last edited Jun 09, 2014 04:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chuck LoPresti | 17 comments Nearing completion and Fate as protagonist has taken a central position as was expected. It is interesting to think about the fate of man as juxtaposed to the fate of man's machines. Throughout the book the personification of the tools of war ties man inexorably to the products of man. It's easy to see why Krzhizhanovsky, Shalomov, Platonov and Grossman animated machines to sentient beings and like watchmakers left to negotiate parallel fates. All three writers held hope that mastery of such forms would free man from the horrors only to witness the opposite. In Lend-lease - Shalomov tells of a US gifted tractor employed chiefly to dig and bury man. Platonov wrote, "“He walked around all the useless things in the courtyard and touched them with his hands; for some reason, he wished that these would remember him, and love him. But he didn't believe they would. From childhood memories he knew how strange and sad it is after a long absence to see a familiar place again, for these unmoving objects have no memory and do not recognize the stirrings of a stranger's heart.”

It was absolutely horrifying to read Grossman discuss man's inability, at the time, to filter salt out of seawater - a skill now well within our grasp. So what now then? Splitting the atom is no longer a challenge and if you share Grossman's ideology that man's ultimate failure to master that which they create (clearly illustrated in Viktor's relationship with his daughter), only doom awaits. I can only imagine what effect this book might have had during the peak of the cold-wars...and with the increasing tension that defines current US/Russian relations it's not hard to hear the threnodic bells that Grossman sounded as the trains unloaded ringing with increasing clarity.

But as Grossman indicates, why shouldn't this be? Nature operates the same way, eggs are broken, nettles fall and sting and it's only burning that releases the seeds that forests require. To me mind, he reminds me, as man, that peace isn't easy or natural but it is human. Peace as counter to Fascism requires courage and often combat.

Honest and prescient, I think it's absolutely incorrect to claim this book as the ultimate triumph of the Russian literature of its time. In terms of prose or narration - Grossman is miles behind Platonov and light years behind Chekhov. Grossman never comes close to the narrative prowess of superiors like Turgenev and Chekhov. His insights are in no way superior to Tolstoy and his sense of social humor can't approach the masterful peaks of Zoschenko or Voinovich. However, this is possibly more important than all of those names apart from Tolstoy. This is a story that can't be told enough and no attentive reader will have wasted their time. If there is one element of this work that does transcend its peers - it's in the understanding of the relationship between a mother and her son or all sons.

Chuck LoPresti | 17 comments final thoughts and review here:


Jonathan | 232 comments I finished 'Life and Fate' a little while ago but haven't got around to posting much here....how are others coping?...finished, given up or still going?

For me, it was an unpromising start as I just couldn't get into it and I did consider giving up on it but once the central characters (Lyudmila, Viktor, Yevgenia etc.) started to appear it began to appeal to me.

I agree with Chuck that 'it's absolutely incorrect to claim this book as the ultimate triumph of the Russian literature of its time'. I think the claims of 'masterpiece' and the comparisons with 'War and Peace' set up an expectation that the book just couldn't fulfill and are misleading. I was also expecting a book 'on' the Battle of Stalingrad, but it isn't really just about that; although it's set whilst that battle is raging and some of the scenes take place during it, a large proportion of the revolves around Viktor's scientific discoveries and bureaucratic battles within the Soviet system. It is these, together with Krymov's interrogations that are the best part of the book. In fact, I feel that it would have worked better separating those out from the war & concentration camp material to form a slimmer but more concentrated critique of Stalinism/totalitarianism allowing the war stuff to be incorporated into a different work.

Reading the introduction (after I'd read the book) made me realise that my criticisms of the uneven nature of the work was partly to do with the fact that the book was confiscated (or 'arrested' as Grossman called it) before he, or anyone else, had a chance to edit the book; he died before it was ever published. The introduction, together with Chuck's posts, encouraged met to go back and read Viktor's mother's letter which was even more powerful on a second read; I may also go back and read some of the earlier material that I didn't like the first time.

I quite fancy reading more Grossman now. I'm thinking of the light & shade of An Armenian Sketchbook and The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays.

Chuck LoPresti | 17 comments Good to hear I was of service.

Consider reading the Road and Everything Flows - what he didn't do in Life and Fate - he did in these works. The Road especially - when you read his letter to his mother it will really tie it all together. Also consider some Platonov - he is instrumental in the development of Grossman's style. Foundation Pit is a powerful read - the prose is stunning. All Platonov is great IMO - but do not start with Happy Moscow.

Your insights are spot on IMO and I think when you read The Road and Everything Flows (both MUCH shorter and more directed) you'll see why Life and Fate was constructed the way it was.

If you or anyone needs some post-read levity that also helps clarify the times and responses to this work - check out some Zoschenko - he is a social critic and humorist who wrote short stories - seek out Bees and People - I think I've seen it online. Also Voinovich - he's the reason we have this book - his Fur Hat is HILARIOUS and paints a telling portrait of the aftermath of these events in a pleasantly oblique way.

Again - nice to share some dialog with fellow readers.

Jonathan | 232 comments Chuck wrote: "Good to hear I was of service.

Consider reading the Road and Everything Flows - what he didn't do in Life and Fate - he did in these works. The Road especially - when you read his letter to his m..."

Thanks for the recommendations Chuck. I hadn't known of many Soviet era writers except for Bulgakov & Solzhenitsyen. I've added some to my TBR list but I'll probably read some more Grossman next.

The Battle of Stalingrad is a topic that I've meant to read up on for quite a while and as I was expecting 'Life and Fate' to be a bit more informative on this subject than it was I'll probably read Anthony Beevor's book, Stalingrad as I recently picked up a 2nd hand copy - I notice that he's written on Grossman as well.

Lois (literanarchy) | 113 comments So, I have finally finished this! Having taken me 6 months to do so, I already feel like I miss the book - primarily the rhythm of those Russian names, funnily enough. I suppose I read them so often they almost became a mantra! Plus they were fun to say.

I'm not sure why it took me so long, really - the writing was certainly easy enough to read, and I could keep a handle on the characters. It was probably because of the many distressing sections about the liquidation camps and collectivisation. They were emotionally confronting and hard to read, but I certainly feel better educated about Russia than before.

I liked Grossman's style, particularly when he was describing the Russian landscape (I wasn't so sure about his philosophical and scientific sermons). In the end, I made over 200 notes, highlights and bookmarks! He is incredibly quotable.

I'm not sure if I have just totally forgotten what happened or if it has already been discussed in one of these threads, but what did happen to Seryozha and that telephonist? Also, who were the couple with the little daughter at the very end of the book?

I rushed the end a bit in my excitement, which might be why I dropped these few threads... All in all though, I would say I can well believe it is the definitive Russian novel of World War 2, even if it's not necessarily the best Russian novel of that time. I do feel that it gave me a clearer picture of that war and how Russians experienced it than anything else I've seen or read - I credit that to his background as a journalist.

In summary: very glad I persevered!

Chuck LoPresti | 17 comments I will repeat a comment - read parts of The Road when you finish....you must read his letter to his mother...IMO it should be appended to Life and Fate regardless of redundancy.

You are right to feel glad for checking this one off the list. A big read indeed.

Lois (literanarchy) | 113 comments Chuck wrote: "I will repeat a comment - read parts of The Road when you finish....you must read his letter to his mother...IMO it should be appended to Life and Fate regardless of redundancy.

You are right to ..."

Thanks for the recommendation, Chuck :) I will definitely follow up on it - although I might need to take a break for something a bit lighter in between!

Chuck LoPresti | 17 comments The letters are short - very quick read - but an essential bookend to the experience IMO. Sorry if I seem pushy.

message 11: by Lois (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lois (literanarchy) | 113 comments No worries—you already convinced me! I have started it already and am interested to see how it all ties together.

message 12: by Lois (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lois (literanarchy) | 113 comments Although I know you guys don't necessarily agree with the comparison between Life and Fate and War and Peace, I think it's interesting that this quote I just read today in a review about the latter so aptly describes the experience of reading the former:

"Which is why this novel chock full of clear, honest reflection about the pain of living is also one of the most life-affirming works of fiction one will encounter." (http://offtheshelf.com/2014/10/the-on...)

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