Stalingrad – Vasily Grossman

In April 1942, Hitler and Mussolini plan the huge offensive on the Eastern Front that will culminate in the greatest battle in human history.

Hundreds of miles away, Pyotr Vavilov receives his call-up papers and spends a final night with his wife and children in the hut that is his home. As war approaches, the Shaposhnikov family gathers for a meal: despite her age, Alexandra will soon become a refugee; Tolya will enlist in the reserves; Vera, a nurse, will fall in love with a wounded pilot; and Viktor Shtrum will receive a letter from his doomed mother which will haunt him forever.

The war will consume the lives of a huge cast of characters – lives which express Grossman’s grand themes of the nation and the individual, nature’s beauty and war’s cruelty, love and separation.

Having recently gotten back into the habit of frequenting my local library, the first book I picked up was Vasily Grossman’s – Criminally – lesser known prelude to Life and Fate, both books together were intended to be the 20th century War and Peace and I have to say they lives up to that book’s impact and legacy.

This is a version of Grossman’s book isn’t quite the same as the Russian version entitled For a Just Cause, the translator Robert Chandler has readded in parts that were originally deleted in accordance with the Stalin government’s everchanging policies.  Whether this affects the pace of the book or not I loved every page of this story.

Weighing in at almost nine hundred pages this novel is a vast panorama of voices and stories and does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of dislocation, pain and horror of World War II but also sensitively paints pictures of the lives and loves of those people caught up in those monumental events.

Primarily Stalingrad follows the fate of the Shaposhkinov family, as well as their friends, colleagues, and lovers.  As is to be expected with the Russian epics, there is a huge list of characters but apart from the odd Krymov/Krylov confusion I found it easy to keep all the characters separate in my mind.

Grossman himself was a war journalist who wrote eyewitness accounts of many battles, including Stalingrad, and his war scenes are brilliantly done, he brings home the brutal horrors of the struggle for the city, his imagery is visceral, both tragic and memorable.

As the novel builds up to the fateful battle for Stalingrad the reader is treated to gorgeous prose detailing the thoughts of many people meditating on life, freedom, human nature, the future, the futility, and religion.  There are many passages that I reread but I still managed to finish the books in three weeks, I was that hooked.

Not all the storylines are tied up, some just dissipate whilst others are picked up in Life and Fate which I am reading now.  I really cannot recommend these two books highly enough, they are a magnificent achievement, a kaleidoscope of thought and personality that will stay with the reader long after the books are finished.  Already I cannot wait to reread them in the future.

15 Replies to “Stalingrad – Vasily Grossman”

  1. I am half way through Stalingrad and absolutely loving it. I’ll definitely be going on to Life and Fate, and then Everything Flows. There seems to be a surge in group reading of Russian classics which is fabulous because it helps to break down these massive epics into more manageable chunks. Hope you and the family are all doing well x

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    1. Stalingrad doesn’t let up, it keeps adding thise characters. I had a gap of about a month between the two books but didn’t want to lose momentum. They are too good!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would never pick this book up, especially at 900 pages! It sounds as though it’s worth investing the time, but perhaps I’ll just rely on your review instead of reading it myself!

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  3. Although this sounds wonderful, I may have to put it on hold for when I’m not working like crazy. I’m such a slow reader (and I often have 6 books going at any one time in addition to all of the picture books I read), the 900 pages may take me a year. But still, I’ll keep it on my TBR list. Thanks for the rec!

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    1. That’s a lot of books to juggle but I salute you for the effort you put in. It is surprising how the pages of Stalingrad flew by but I am thankful for it, it was a great read and one to savour as well so taking a year to read it might not be a bad idea.

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  4. Thanks for the recommendation Ste J. I loved War and Peace and if this is comparable I am sure to love this one too. I don’t have much time for blogging or reading at present so it will have to wait until I do.

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    1. Everyone seems to be ducking in and out of blogging at the moment. I am already looking forwrd to reading this one again, as well as War and Peace, true epics that need multiple readings for true appreciation.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are indeed, it was one of the pivotal battles of Word War II, and real people appear and are referenced in abundance. I can’t wait to read it again!

      Liked by 1 person

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