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Life and Fate
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Buddy Reads > Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (October-December 2019)

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Susan | 10602 comments Mod
Following on from our Buddy Read of Stalingrad Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman by Vasily Grossman we are turning our attention to Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman Book 2 in the Orange Inheritance Series.

Life and Fate is an epic tale of a country told through the fate of a single family, the Shaposhnikovs. As the battle of Stalingrad looms, Grossman's characters must work out their destinies in a world torn by ideological tyranny and war.

Completed in 1960 and then confiscated by the KGB, this sweeping panorama of Soviet Society remained unpublished until it was smuggled into the West in 1980, where it was hailed as a masterpiece.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
I will not lock this discussion, even though, technically it isn't open yet, as I wondered how we want to read this?

I have had a look at the book is split into three parts:

Part 1: 1-71 chapters
Part 2: 1-63 chapters
Part 3: 1-61 chapters

Altogether, there are 195 chapters and nearly 900 pages. If we read this over two months, it works out at about 25 chapters per week.

If we do this over eleven weeks, which takes us to the end of the year (amazing as that seems) it will be approx 18 chapters per week.

Which do people prefer, or you do want to forget a reading schedule, as we've done for long books in the past, and just read at our own pace?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I thought the reading schedule worked well for Stalingrad, so I would probably vote for that, but am happy either way.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
If so, Judy, would you prefer the 8 week or 11 week option?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
If you are working out the schedule, Susan, I am very happy to go with whichever you think works better.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
Let's see what anyone else want then. Personally, I think the 11 week option would be better. 25 chapters a week seems rather a lot. However, at least this book will be easier to get hold of than Stalingrad so more people may join in.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments I’m planning to read each Part straight through. That seems to be working for Stalingrad. I like becoming absorbed in the world of a long novel. Oddly, it feels like a holiday from the fast pace of the rest of life. Anyway, it works for me. I will keep my discussion to the same plan that others are following.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
If the majority prefer not to have a plan, then that's fine. We could just split the discussion into Part 1, 2 and 3 and decide how long we have to complete each part before posting spoilers?


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
I like having some kind of discussion schedule as it means we can discuss as we go along without giving away spoilers. That allows us to get into more detail than trying to think back over a long book at the end.

So yes, splitting the discussion into Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 would work for me - I often find that I race ahead in reading but by marking up my edition, I can still keep to the relevant discussion parts.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
OK, that's how we'll do it then. Just split the discussion into parts. Not sure how many weeks it will take, but I would suggest about 3 weeks for each part - approx 20+ chapters each week.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Sounds good - I'm looking forward to catching up with the Shaposhnikovs :)


message 12: by Susan (last edited Sep 18, 2019 10:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan | 10602 comments Mod
Fine, I will close the discussion thread now until next month. Our vague-ish schedule will be as follows:

Part 1: 20th October - 10th November
Part 2: 11th November - 1st December
Part 3: 2nd December - 22nd December


message 13: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10350 comments Mod
Let the discourse commence


Here's to another wonderful buddy read


message 14: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
It's now October 20 and I'm getting started - who else is reading this one? The opening, set in a Nazi concentration camp, is very powerful. I'm not sure exactly where this camp is supposed to be, but the introduction says that Grossman interviewed many survivors of Treblinka.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments I’ll be reading this, although I have another book to finish first. I expect to start in a couple of days.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
I just finished it but will be joining in on the discussions.


message 17: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
That's good news that you are both reading it, Clare and RC.

RC, what did you think - even better than Stalingrad? I know this is said to be his masterpiece.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Yes, I did think it was even better than Stalingrad as the scope is much wider: as you mention, we're in Nazi concentration and Stalinist labour camps, for example, amidst all the other scenes.

For me, though, Grossman writes more as an excellent journalist than a novelist - characters are often built around their situation (grieving mother, woman torn between two men) than having rounded personalities. But that's ok. As a panoramic view of Soviet Russia at this moment in time, it's probably unsurpassed, and Grossman does a tremendous job of marshalling the huge variety of scenes.


message 19: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
This is a great line at the end of Chapter 7, set at the Front:

"And the dead were buried - to spend the first night of their eternal rest beside the dug-outs and trenches where their comrades were writing letters, shaving, eating bread, drinking tea and washing in improvised baths."


message 20: by Judy (last edited Oct 21, 2019 02:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
It's interesting that you thought it was even better than Stalingrad, RC. I think it was also true in Stalingrad that "characters are often built around their situation", as you say, but the story as a whole is magnificent.

I don't think I will always remember whether a character was also included in Stalingrad or not (except with the main characters). Even within Stalingrad, I often struggled to remember characters when they turned up again later on.

But I won't worry about that too much - I had a quick glance at part of the introduction, and I see translator Robert Chandler says: "Intended as a sequel to the politically less heretical For a Just Cause (Stalingrad), Life and Fate is better seen as a separate novel that includes many of the same characters." (Editing to say I've just realised Susan's weekly summaries of Stalingrad will be very helpful to remind me of the characters in that book.)


message 21: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I've just noticed that there was an 8-hour radio dramatisation of Life and Fate, starring Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant, which is available on audible. I might want to listen to this after reading the book.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
I do intend to read this, but I haven't started it yet. Good to hear that it is even better than Stalingrad. I believe it starts immediately at the end of the previous book.


message 23: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val | 1709 comments I have a couple of library books I ought to finish first, but I will be reading this one soon.


message 24: by Anthony (new) - added it

Anthony Bruno (anthonyvincentbruno) | 1 comments Susan wrote: "I will not lock this discussion, even though, technically it isn't open yet, as I wondered how we want to read this?

I have had a look at the book is split into three parts:

Part 1: 1-71 chapters..."


The audio book, done in that BeeBeCee old school fashion, sounds rather good.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments I’m now on Chapter 37 and really enjoying the book. I agree with RC that Grossman writes as a brilliant journalist. He has such keen powers of observation and an eye for the telling detail.

Grossman was a discovery for me this year. I read ‘An Armenian Sketchbook’, which he wrote after ‘Life and Fate’ had been arrested. It blew me away. The author’s personality, his truthfulness and empathy come across so vividly. While I liked ‘Stalingrad’, it didn’t quite live up to the Sketchbook for me. Perhaps there was a little too much propaganda, although it’s understandable why he wrote it that way. This book feels more personal.

I have found the most affecting episodes so far to have been the letter from Viktor’s mother and Chapter 33, which focuses on Lyudmila, a character who has until now seemed distant and cold. I do wonder how she and Viktor got together. I don’t recall it being explained in ‘Stalingrad’, but I may have forgotten.

I hope other readers are also enjoying it.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
I must admit that I have not started this yet, so I am horribly behind. However, I do want to read it and intend to start it, even if I am running behind.


message 27: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I'm not as far as you yet, Clare, but am enjoying the book a lot so far too. I have also been meaning to read An Armenian Sketchbook.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
I would certainly like to read more by this author. I started this last night and, when we are thrown straight into the camp, I feel so glad I waited and read Stalingrad first. I feel that knowing the backstory, of how those characters got there, adds something to the experience.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Clare wrote: "I have found the most affecting episodes so far to have been the letter from Viktor’s mother"

I agree, this is a very emotive scene, and especially when we remember that letter following Victor around Russia in 'Stalingrad'.

I agree with Susan, that having met the characters in 'Stalingrad' is important as they're given less 'living' room in this book so it helps if we have some prior investment before meeting them again in L&F.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
It is also interesting how much Grossman understands the personal. From the very beginning, we hear how taking away individuality kills you and the start of the novel, in the camp, is such a strong, evocative image, where he suggests the Germans are not even needed and the prisoners virtually police themselves.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments Susan wrote: "It is also interesting how much Grossman understands the personal. From the very beginning, we hear how taking away individuality kills you and the start of the novel, in the camp, is such a strong..."

Susan, I agree. At first, I thought the large cast of characters was a drawback. You don’t spend much time with any of them so some psychological depth must be lost. Having finished Part 1, I’m appreciating Grossman’s choice. It seems to me that he’s saying that every single individual is of interest, whatever their education or status. I loved the passages where he proclaims his humanity. I highlighted the following:

‘Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to those peculiarities.’

I also enjoyed the discussion of Chekhov. It made me want to read some more of his stories. Another addition to the TBR.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
I love the way a book, or author, leads you to another, Clare!


message 33: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
How is everyone getting on with Life and Fate? Must admit I am way behind, due to being busy recently, and am still in the middle of part 1, even though we are supposed to start discussion of part 2 today! I have this week off work so will try to catch up.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments I’m going to pick it back up for Part 2 in the next couple of days.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
I am also really behind. I galloped through Stalingrad, but I am trying to read this months buddy reads and this one seems to have been left behind. I will try to get back to it.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments I’ve finished Part Two now. I haven’t had a huge amount of time to read over the past couple of weeks and I found it much harder to keep the momentum until the last couple of days. Reading only a couple of chapters a day, it was hard to remember who was who.

But the chapters set in the camps - particularly the extermination camp (presumably based on Treblinka which Grossman wrote about elsewhere) - are so powerful. I’m not sure I’ve read anything as affecting.


message 37: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I'm horrendously behind - I didn't manage to get far with it during my week off and am still in part one. All down to me and a lack of the time, rather than the book, which seems wonderful.

Thanks for your comments, Clare - I think I will get on better if I do try to speed up, since, as you say, if you only read a little bit at a time it is hard to remember who is who.


message 38: by Judy (last edited Nov 26, 2019 12:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Not sure if it has been mentioned that Grossman's War, a BBC radio season of programmes with productions of both Stalingrad and Life and Fate, plus a non-fiction series, Stalingrad: Destiny of a Novel starts this weekend/next week:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/lat...

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...


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

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
P.S. Kenneth Branagh stars! I wish this was going to be on TV...


message 40: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10350 comments Mod
That's wonderful news - thanks Judy.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
Thanks for the links, Judy. Certainly, I will listen to those.

I am also horrendously behind, but am now getting into Part 1. The terrible, tragic letter, which you have to feel mirrors that of Grossman's own mother, is so moving.

I am sure that the radio season will be excellent.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Just to add to the chorus of thanks, Judy - I don't usually listen to the radio but these sound unmissable.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "The terrible, tragic letter, which you have to feel mirrors that of Grossman's own mother, is so moving."

Yes, so tragic - and it must have been one letter amongst millions at the time. I found it worked especially well as we'd seen the letter being passed through so many hands in 'Stalingrad'.


Susan | 10602 comments Mod
Exactly - you worried that the letter would ever be delivered.
I wonder how close it was to the letter that Grossman's own mother wrote him?


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Yes, it's intriguing to think he might have memorialised something so personal in a novel.


message 46: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Thanks all for your comments re the radio programmes - I will have to try to remember to listen to them myself!


message 47: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10350 comments Mod
They should all be on the BBC sounds app which is a great way of listening to/cathing up with BBC radio programmes


Clare Boucher | 80 comments Starting Part Three today. The first chapter throws the reader right back into the action.


Roman Clodia | 5670 comments Mod
Did anyone catch the BBC radio dramatisation of Stalingrad yesterday? I only listened to about 20 mins on catch-up but liked it a lot and hope to have more time today. As Nigeyb says, they're downloadable via the Sounds app.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "Did anyone catch the BBC radio dramatisation of Stalingrad yesterday? I only listened to about 20 mins on catch-up but liked it a lot and hope to have more time today. As Nigeyb says, they're downl..."

I’ve downloaded it to listen to on my commute next week.


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