Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Vasily Grossman: The Road: Short Fiction and Essays
In 1961 Vasily Grossman wrote to the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev asking for "freedom for my book". The book in question was Life and Fate, Grossman's breathtaking epic – his Soviet War and Peace – and it had been "arrested" by the KGB. Grossman had fallen foul of a toxic combination of Stalin's postwar anti "cosmopolitan" (for cosmopolitan read Jewish) campaigns, power struggles within the writers' union (Sholokov called the novel "spittle in the face of the Russian people") and the hard fist of Stalinist censorship that, despite the Khrushchev thaw, lived on. Grossman's plea fell on deaf ears. Mikhail Suslov, the Communist party's chief ideologue, said that Life and Fate would not be let out for at least 200 years.
Suslov was wrong: although Grossman did not live to witness it, a smuggled copy of the novel was published in Switzerland in 1980. This magnificent exploration of the wartime struggle of freedom against tyranny, translated into English by Robert Chandler who, along with Antony Beevor, has done so much to keep Grossman's work alive in the English language, stands as equal to anything in the great canon of Russian literature.
Now Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have brought us The Road, a collection of Grossman's short stories and articles. The pieces, with introductions that give context to Grossman's life, range from stories written in the 1930s, through his wartime journalism, to the fiction of his last years, where the recurrence of the phrase "life and fate" echoes the loss of his arrested masterpiece. Taken together, the collection is a treasure trove that lends the reader an insider's understanding of what it was like to live through the Soviet era, at the same time as it introduces us to Grossman's enduring preoccupation with the wonder and terror of humanity...