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Stalingrad
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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Dec 06, 2018 02:41PM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
Stalingrad

Stalingrad

Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Pages: 800
Translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
Originally published 1952.

Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate has been hailed as a twentieth-century War and Peace. However, Life and Fate is only the second half of a two-part work, the first half of which was published in 1952. Grossman wanted to call this earlier work Stalingrad—as it will be in this first English translation—but it was published as For a Just Cause. The characters in both novels are largely the same and so is the story line; Life and Fate picks up where Stalingrad ends, in late September 1942. The first novel is in no way inferior to Life and Fate; the chapters about the Shaposhnikov family are both tender and witty, and the battle scenes are vivid and moving. One of the most memorable chapters of Life and Fate is the last letter written from a Jewish ghetto by Viktor Shtrum’s mother—a powerful lament for East European Jewry. The words of this letter do not appear in Stalingrad, yet the letter’s presence makes itself powerfully felt and it is mentioned many times. We learn who carries it across the front lines, who passes it on to whom, and how it eventually reaches Viktor. Grossman describes the difficulty Viktor experiences in reading it and his inability to talk about it even to his family. The absence of the letter itself is eloquent—as if its contents are too awful for anyone to take in.


sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments Has anyone started reading this? I am about to finish Part I and I can't stop reading! I wish I could read this all day


message 3: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom (motnedwob) | 7 comments I'm about 270 pages into and love it. But I'm so daunted by the 1,000 pages that I'm only reading a little bit now and then, hoping to gain the momentum to plow through the rest. That said, I'm about a third of the way through Svetlana Alexieivich's "Last Witnesses," a compilation of interviews with Russians who were children when WWII started—what they were doing on the day of the invasion, and what they did to survive during the war. Most interviews are only 2-3 pages long. It makes a great and immediate companion to Stalingrad.


sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments Tom wrote: "I'm about 270 pages into and love it. But I'm so daunted by the 1,000 pages that I'm only reading a little bit now and then, hoping to gain the momentum to plow through the rest. That said, I'm abo..."

That sounds good, Tom! Stacked!


Hugh (bodachliath) | 24 comments I read it last month and found it very impressive. For those who have read Life and Fate, Stalingrad is more focused on the mechanics of war and less on the people, but that may have been one of the compromises necessary to get it published in Russia.


message 6: by Samuel (new)

Samuel Gordon | 12 comments Would you start with this one over Life and Fate? I haven't read anything by the author and I'm wondering if this would be a good introduction to his body of work.


message 7: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom (motnedwob) | 7 comments Life and Fate is actually part two of Stalingrad.


message 8: by Samuel (new)

Samuel Gordon | 12 comments Tom wrote: "Life and Fate is actually part two of Stalingrad." Would you say it's better read as the author intended? Or it makes no difference if I start with Life and Fate?


Hugh (bodachliath) | 24 comments I don't think it matters which way round you read them, but I read Life and Fate first. The relationship between the two books is complicated by the multiple drafts of both, and the narrative is often episodic rather than linear. I think that both work stand-alone, and as a pair they would stand up equally well either way round.


message 10: by Samuel (new)

Samuel Gordon | 12 comments Hugh wrote: "I don't think it matters which way round you read them, but I read Life and Fate first. The relationship between the two books is complicated by the multiple drafts of both, and the narrative is of..."
Thank you! I think I'll start with Life and Fate. I have a feeling it's one of those novels that will be an instant favorite of mine, I've been putting off reading it for years.


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

Tom (motnedwob) | 7 comments I have owned Life and Fate for 20 years but haven't read it. I believe Robert Chandler is the translator for both books, so there's that level of consistency between the two books. Also, for Stalingrad, Chandler had access to the various versions of Stalingrad (cuts and revisions made to suit censors) that allowed him to hew closer to Grossman's original—materials Chandler did not have access to when translating Life and Fate, which apparently was easier to get past censors. In Chandler's intro to Stalingrad, he says he would now like to re-translate Life and Fate, given what he now has access to. . . For what that's all worth.


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

Hugh (bodachliath) | 24 comments Tom wrote: "I have owned Life and Fate for 20 years but haven't read it. I believe Robert Chandler is the translator for both books, so there's that level of consistency between the two books. Also, for Stalin..."
Life and Fate was never published in Russia during Grossman's lifetime - Stalingrad was, in at least two different versions, one before Stalin died and one under Khrushchev. Chandler's translation of Stalingrad has a long explanation of the differences between versions, many of them imposed by the Soviet authorities, and there are chapters in Stalingrad that are obviously designed to please the authorities. Chandler's version is a mixture taking elements from several different versions, and some of his choices were dictated by the need to avoid inconsistencies with Life and Fate. The Soviet authorities also "arrested" Grossman's manuscript of Life and Fate!


message 13: by Samuel (new)

Samuel Gordon | 12 comments Hugh wrote: "Tom wrote: "I have owned Life and Fate for 20 years but haven't read it. I believe Robert Chandler is the translator for both books, so there's that level of consistency between the two books. Also..."

Wow, I didn't know that! Makes me want to read both even more now! I just need to finish Darkness at Noon first. :)


Renate | 5 comments The heavy hand of the censor hangs over this book. Sadly, I didn't trust anything I was reading, except perhaps the very personal descriptions of ordinary people. But even that was perhaps tainted with excess zeal and patriotism.
And in fact, a brief look at another source provided contradictory information regarding the character of one of the high ranking soviet military.
Move on to Life and Fate.


message 15: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom (motnedwob) | 7 comments Renate wrote: "The heavy hand of the censor hangs over this book. Sadly, I didn't trust anything I was reading, except perhaps the very personal descriptions of ordinary people. But even that was perhaps tainted ..."

Could you point out the passages or chapters you're referring to, and cite the event/person/thing being censored? Chandler notes in his introduction and in the footnotes that he tried to reconstruct the originally submitted manuscript, before censorship. Or are you referring to self-censorship, before the manuscript was submitted for gov't approval? My only point of comparison, apart from Chandler's notes, is Svetlana Alexievich's interviews with Russians who had been children (2-14) when WWII broke out ("Last Witnesses"). I'm 360 pages into "Stalingrad." If Grossman commits any self-censorship, it would be in *underplaying* how desperate conditions were, vis-a-vis "Last Witnesses." Since that desperation was not a fault of the Soviet gov't, it's hard to know why that desperation for food and shelter would be censored, or the number of Soviets left orphans by the war for that matter. *That* (and as bad and worse) would have been a matter of common experience for the original intended Soviet audience for this book. . . So, what is the censorship you allude to?


Renate | 5 comments It's been at least six months since I read these books and the associated commentaries and my memory is not exact. I think a lot of your questions may be answered in more detail in the introductory material in Life and Fate. It seems that Grossman censored himself in writing Stalingrad though perhaps also he was still more of a believer than at the time he wrote Life and Fate. Certainly Stalingrad shows a much more idealistic picture of the soviet system and the people's attitutde than the later. Life and Fate shows the corruption of the soviet bureacracy, the purges, and the corroding effect these had on those who were initially idealistic communists. There's nothing like this in Stalingrad. For example, in Stalingrad, the soviet soldiers are shown as motivated by patriotism, while many historians will say they were, at least to some extent motivated by KGB agents holding guns to their backs. Soviet commanders are shown are heroic and noble. Corruption which was endemic to the soviet Stalinist system is left out of Stalingrad.


Renate | 5 comments Tom, since you asked, I hope you will respond to my response to you.


Emily M | 30 comments If Grossman was more of a believer in the system at the time he wrote Stalingrad, that does not make it censored or self-censored. It means it reflects a different perspective than the one he later had (and perhaps than the one that you share).

I was just speaking to a Russian colleague about Stalingrad (the battle) and Grossman. We're going to read it together. Her take was that yes, Stalin dug in his heels and threw everyone he could find into the meat grinder and there were atrocities across the board, BUT there was also a great deal of heroism and patriotism and many people were genuinely committed to halting the German advance at all costs, KGB or not. (Obviously, she wasn't there, but she came out with this spontaneously, it's clearly something that is still felt in Russia, even post-Soviet breakdown).


Renate | 5 comments I have no doubt there was a great deal of patriotism. How can there not be when your country is being attacked?


message 20: by Louise (last edited Nov 01, 2019 11:10AM) (new)

Louise | 491 comments Mod
Today we start "officially" discussing Stalingrad although I am pleased to see the discussion already underway.

A bit about the book as an introduction:

In April 1942, Hitler and Mussolini meet in Salzburg where they agree on a renewed assault on the Soviet Union. Launched in the summer, the campaign soon picks up speed, as the routed Red Army is driven back to the industrial center of Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga. In the rubble of the bombed-out city, Soviet forces dig in for a last stand.

The story told in Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad unfolds across the length and breadth of Russia and Europe, and its characters include mothers and daughters, husbands and brothers, generals, nurses, political activists, steelworkers, and peasants, along with Hitler and other historical figures. At the heart of the novel is the Shaposhnikov family. Even as the Germans advance, the matriarch, Alexandra Vladimirovna, refuses to leave Stalingrad. Far from the front, her eldest daughter, Ludmila, is unhappily married to the Jewish physicist Viktor Shtrum. Viktor’s research may be of crucial military importance, but he is distracted by thoughts of his mother in the Ukraine, lost behind German lines.

In Stalingrad, published here for the first time in English translation, and in its celebrated sequel, Life and Fate, Grossman writes with extraordinary power and deep compassion about the disasters of war and the ruthlessness of totalitarianism, without, however, losing sight of the little things that are the daily currency of human existence or of humanity’s inextinguishable, saving attachment to nature and life. Grossman’s two-volume masterpiece can now be seen as one of the supreme accomplishments of twentieth-century literature, tender and fearless, intimate and epic



message 21: by Louise (new)

Louise | 491 comments Mod
If you are on the fence about reading it, this might sway you:

PRAISE

One needs time and patience to read Stalingrad, but it is worth it. Moving majestically from Berlin to Moscow to the boundless Kazakh steppe...A multitude of lives and fates are played out against a vast panoramic history.
—Ian Thomson, Evening Standard ‘Book of the Week’

If you have read Grossman before, you will already very likely know that you urgently want to read Stalingrad. If you haven’t, I can only tell you that when you do read this novel, you will not only discover that you love his characters and want to stay with them — that you need them in your life as much as you need your own family and loved ones — but that at the end...you want to read it again.
—Julian Evans, The Daily Telegraph

This is a big event...[Stalingrad] gives voice to a dizzying array of experiences...You do feel as though you are there, wandering through those devastated streets among the starving, dead, and mad.
—Claire Allfree, Daily Mail

A dazzling prequel…His descriptions of battle in an industrial age are some of the most vivid ever written...Stalingrad is Life and Fate’s equal. It is, arguably, the richer book — shot through with human stories and a sense of life’s beauty and fragility.
—Luke Harding, The Observer

Few works of literature since Homer can match the piercing, unshakably humane gaze that Grossman turns on the haggard face of war.
—The Economist

Grossman’s epic, sprawling novel from 1952 is a masterpiece of intertwined plots that cascade together in a long sequence of militaristic horror…When the bombing of Stalingrad begins, Grossman cuts between viewpoints, rewinding time over and over again. A spectacular afterword details the extent of censorship the text suffered under Stalin. As a stand-alone novel, this is both gripping and enlightening, a tour de force. When considered as a whole with Life and Fate, this diptych is one of the landmark accomplishments of 20th-century literature.
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR.
—Martin Amis

An extraordinary novel by war correspondent Grossman, completing, with Life and Fate, a two-volume Soviet-era rejoinder to War and Peace...A classic of wartime literature finally available in a comprehensive English translation that will introduce new readers to a remarkable writer.
—Kirkus, starred review


message 22: by Louise (new)

Louise | 491 comments Mod
Please note that this discussion will be a two month long one (longer if you wish).


Jason (uberzensch) | 83 comments I started a while back, but I must say that chapters 3-5 stuck with me. Here we are introduced to Vavilov, who just received papers sending him to the army. The chapters describe him processing the news. He tries to complete all the household chores for when he won’t be around. More poignantly, he takes time so absorb the world around him. A world he knows he will soon miss and may never see again.

These chapters really set a tone for the novel and piqued my interest.


sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments Jason wrote: "I started a while back, but I must say that chapters 3-5 stuck with me. Here we are introduced to Vavilov, who just received papers sending him to the army. The chapters describe him processing the..."

I loved that part, too. This book is quite a slow-burner for me, but I am enjoying each part of it


Jason (uberzensch) | 83 comments Slow burner indeed! I very much enjoy it, but I’m having trouble just plowing through...


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Michael (myerstyson) | 30 comments I had no idea how big this book was (I hadn't opened this thread till after what I'm telling you about now), until I went to the library today. There, sitting on the new arrivals shelf (new to the library; not necessarily a new book), I saw the spine of an obviously NYRB book, so I had to pick it up. Sure enough, Stalingrad. Holy poop!

I'm not ready for an 800+ page read right now, but after reading the above, I'm certainly going to read it shortly.


message 27: by Dax (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dax | 17 comments I am starting this weekend. Real life and wrapping up another book have delayed me. Looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts. I noticed that the average rating for this has shot through the roof since nyrb released the new edition.


Doubledf99.99 | 8 comments I started reading this epic on 5Nov, and Grossman's build up to the battle was in a way tense. His description and writing of the Luftwaffle's air attack on Stalingrad that first day was jarring.


Doubledf99.99 | 8 comments Jason wrote: "Slow burner indeed! I very much enjoy it, but I’m having trouble just plowing through..."

I like the slow plodding pace of the first half of the book, a very good introduction to the historical figures and the fictional characters.


Doubledf99.99 | 8 comments I'm about 60 some odd percent through the book, got to a emotional segment when Viktor rereads his mothers last letter that he keeps close to chest in a jacket pocket and his visualations of her last day at the hands of the Nazi's. It's another one of those my god moments..


Doubledf99.99 | 8 comments I'm an old retired Army guy, and some Grossman's writings in Stalingrad and especially Life and Fate made me all misty-eyed.


message 32: by Dax (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dax | 17 comments I have only just started, but I am already impressed. The image of Vavilov leaving behind his ploughed fields with the red sun rising ahead of him is fantastic. Maybe a little bit symbolic of the bloodshed he is marching off to perhaps?


Doubledf99.99 | 8 comments Very symbolic indeed, and the book is full of images like that, from the fields to the factories.


sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments I finished this two weeks ago and I loved it! I am now ready for Life and Fate


message 35: by Doubledf99.99 (last edited Nov 25, 2019 12:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doubledf99.99 | 8 comments I'm just about finished with this remarkable book and as great as it is, Life and Fate is better yet, its powerful and strongly emotional. Life and Fate will move you to tears.


message 36: by Ivan (last edited Nov 26, 2019 08:11PM) (new)

Ivan (ivanatman) | 3 comments sisilia wrote: "Has anyone started reading this? I am about to finish Part I and I can't stop reading! I wish I could read this all day"

I'm going to, Sisilia. Can't wait. I've just finished watching the documentary on Greatest Events of World War II on Netflix and that episode on Stalingrad is just astounding.


sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments Doubledf99.99 wrote: "I'm just about finished with this remarkable book and as great as it is, Life and Fate is better yet, its powerful and strongly emotional. Life and Fate will move you to tears."

Wow! I'm really looking forward to Life and Fate now


sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments Ivan wrote: "sisilia wrote: "Has anyone started reading this? I am about to finish Part I and I can't stop reading! I wish I could read this all day"

I'm going to, Sisilia. Can't wait. I've just finished watch..."


Enjoy! I'm going to checkout that documentary. When I read Stalingrad, I had The Enemy of the Gates in mind... I imagined all the male characters as Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, and Ed Harris. The ladies are Rachel Weisz and her derivatives :D


message 39: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 24 comments Doubledf99.99 wrote: "I'm just about finished with this remarkable book and as great as it is, Life and Fate is better yet, its powerful and strongly emotional. Life and Fate will move you to tears."
I agree. They are both remarkable, but Life and Fate is the more complete vision.


Emily M | 30 comments Endless flu season means I'm still only a third of the way through this, but so far I'm very much enjoying it.

There are moments where the propaganda takes over at the expense of the story, but not too many of them. I find it interesting, that with all the talk of "the unity of the Soviet people... Hitler's grave error, etc. etc." that no propaganda time has been dedicated to what really strikes me as revolutionary: all those women with important jobs in 1941!


message 41: by Dax (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dax | 17 comments Emily wrote: "Endless flu season means I'm still only a third of the way through this, but so far I'm very much enjoying it.

There are moments where the propaganda takes over at the expense of the story, but n..."


I agree Emily. Grossman is definitely playing up the pro-revolutionary rhetoric in the lead up to the battle. Not surprising though considering Stalin was still kickin when this thing was first published.


Emily M | 30 comments Finished! Whew! Anyone else still reading?


Jason (uberzensch) | 83 comments I’m on page 744. Really wanted to finish before year end, but it gonna happen. I really enjoy Stalingrad, but it’s a slog. It’s been hard for me to keep at it and jump in and out.


Emily M | 30 comments Jason wrote: "I’m on page 744. Really wanted to finish before year end, but it gonna happen. I really enjoy Stalingrad, but it’s a slog. It’s been hard for me to keep at it and jump in and out."

There were definitely more interesting and less interesting bits. I found I lost focus a bit in the third quarter, when we heard less about the individual characters and more about the military commanders and their operations. It gets personal again in the last stretch though.


Chuck LoPresti | 17 comments This was just an awful read compared to Life and Fate. This isn't even his writing I suspect. The work on the censor's hand is so apparent. If you've never read Life and Fate - it's essential. This was terrible. Grossman is best when he stays closer to his friend Platonov IMO.


Emily M | 30 comments I'm not sure. It's also notable that this was published 15 years before he finished Life and Fate. It's possible that Grossman's own feelings in the more immediate aftermath of the war were different than they were later.

Some of the so-called "censor-added" parts I found quite compelling, such as the scenes with the miners.


message 47: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 24 comments I don't think any of it was added by the censors, but Grossman knew what compromises were necessary to get a book published under Stalin.


Jason (uberzensch) | 83 comments Finally finished. Looking back, this probably wasn’t worth the overall time and effort. There were some very strong moments, but the novel fell flat for me overall. I’m still looking forward to Life and Fate, but think I’ll give Grossman a rest for a while.


Emily M | 30 comments Hugh wrote: "I don't think any of it was added by the censors, but Grossman knew what compromises were necessary to get a book published under Stalin."

In the review in the Guardian, it suggests that the censors requested additions, although I'm not sure what this claim is based on.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...


Emily M | 30 comments Jason wrote: "Finally finished. Looking back, this probably wasn’t worth the overall time and effort. There were some very strong moments, but the novel fell flat for me overall. I’m still looking forward to Lif..."

I didn't find it fell flat, but in the third quarter I felt that too much time was spent dwelling on certain fairly anonymous military commanders at the expense of the wonderful characters Grossman had spent the first half setting up. I would have liked a little more Vavilov throughout, a little more of Zhenya and her mother, or many other characters who more or less disappeared.

I do feel like I'll have to read Life and Fate now just to see what happens to everyone who hasn't died yet.


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