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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, July 21, 2017

Life and Fate: Social document or novel?

I probably will read a little further into Vasily Grossman's gargantuan novel, Life and Fate (completed 1960, published 1980)in that it gets somewhat, at least slightly, better around p. 100 - not better as a novel - VG, despite good creds as a Soviet journalist who apparently wrote great news stories from the front during WWII including the first expose of the Treblinka death camps - just seems to have skill as a novelist, no ability to establish a scene, to build engaging dialogue, to create a character, flaws that he covers up by simply creating hundreds of characters and scenes, a total mish-mash. That said, his journalism helps him out a bit, as what he's really trying to do is paint a portrait of Soviet society during the war years. An example of the good and the bad: he has a really long chapter that consists of a supposed letter from a Jewish woman in one of the provincial capitals, and she describes, in this letter to her son that she believes will be the last he receives from her, the orders from the German invading army to confiscate all property from the Jews, to create a Jewish ghetto, to order Jewish men to dig supposed tranches for pipelines but everyone knows they're digging mass graves. As a piece of journalism, this would be fine - but it's not literature and is an extremely clumsy way to provide this info in the midst of a novel. We also see, however, the bravery of VG as a writer: He is standing up against the Stalinist dicta requiring all Soviet writers to practice socialist realism, and he is, sadly, just a little ahead of his time, writing before the somewhat removed restricts in the era of glasnost. His goal, clearly, is to show some of the hypocrisy of the Soviet era: Russian citizens eager to collaborate with the Nazis both to save their own skins and to pounce of the materials confiscated from the Jews; party loyalists stupid and craven in the obeisance to Stalin; Soviet military leaders clumsy and boorish, and so forth. Best to approach Life and Fate as a social document rather than as the 2nd coming of Tolstoy, by which VG or pretty much anyone is going to fall short.

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