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

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Vasily Grossman - Life and Fate has greatness but is not a great novel sad to say

What is the main theme of Vasily Grossman's novel Life and Fate?: I think that's contained in the title. Life, as Grossman perceives it, is or should be inextricably linked w freedom in every sense, free expression of all beliefs, freedom of choice in habitation career marriage and in all aspects of the pursuit of happiness. Yet what intervenes in opposition to life are abstract forces and ideas, generally but not always political forces and ideologies in particular the ideology of totalitarian societies (both nazi and soviet) - these when in opposition to the individual or to one another (symbolized in this novel by the siege of Stalingrad) create fate - keeping individuals from attaining or fulfilling their dreams and destiny. Esp in wartime fate determines who lives and who dies - bombs and shrapnel are indiscriminate; thus people do all they can to live the ideal life as they envision it but they may be thwarted by blind fate. Of course Grossman also recognizes that fate is arbitrary whereas totalitarianism, racism, and any-semitism are deliberate forces on control and discrimination. Opposing totalitarianism is a bold and humane act - part of life - while opposing an enemy army is puts soldiers in the hand of fate - whether they live or die is rarely determined by their own skill or will but rather by fate (chance) alone. Life and Fate is a great novel of ideas and a vast canvas depicting Russian society ca 1942 but sadly it's not a great novel per se in that Grossman seems unable to create character - the "people" in this novel are jus proper nouns - vehicles to carry the author's ideas and observations. Halfway thru the novel - and going no further - I'm still constantly looking up the characters in each section to see who they are and how they might be related to others. I don't mind a demanding or challenging read but at some point the author has some responsibility to develop plot and character and not just a stream of scenes and endless argument about long-forgotten ideological disputes. (There are some very good scenes but they're lost among the reeds.)

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