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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Life and Fate requires far more attention than most novels; it is worth that amount of a reader's time and effort?

Nearing the halfway point in the monumental (for better or worse) Life and Fate (Vasily Grossman) and am impressed and dismayed. There are many fine scenes covering a vast swath of life in the USSR during the seige of Stalingrad - scenes in a concentration camp, a German POW camp, on the front lines, in a military hospital, domestic scenes, scenes in a physics lab where Voctor S., one of the (many) protagonists works, and I could go on - and a few great passages, including some Tolstoyan passages musing on the nature of warfare. But there are far too many pedestrian scenes in which we get lots of dialog, often debating now-obscure points of Soviet history and ideology, without any clear delineation of character. Most frustrating of all, I am now about 400 pages into this novel and still I dind myself constantly leafing back to the list of characters at the end of the book to see who's who, who's in what family, what are their relations, and so forth. In other words, I'm giving this novel my all but Grossman is not giving me his all - the characters may be clear to him, but to his readers? I doubt it - I think this book would be a struggle for anyone. Sometimes a struggle is needed and worthwhile - Ulysses is no easy book to read, for example, but the rewards in insight, humor, literary inventiveness, make it worth the extraordinary atttention that Joyce demands or requires. Finnegans Wake? That's another story, so to speak. Is the effort worth while? To me, no - I don't have the time or desire to read a novel almost word by word - and I'm feeling the same about Life and Fate (though it's entirely different from FW in style - my point is it demands far more attention than most novels). We'll see.

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