Thursday, 10 October 2013

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman



*This review was originally written in 2011. As such, the book count doesn't reflect this year!

And with this book, I hit my goal for the year of reading 150 books. And what a book to go out on! I've only given five or six other five star ratings this year, and Life and Fate feels like the most consequential of them all.

This is a huge sprawling novel, centred around the battle of Stalingrad, but weaving in and out and incorporating the Holocaust, the Soviet detention centres, Soviet science under Stalin, life at the front, life at home, and the nature of freedom and humanity. (And I found Grossman's musings on the latter two more readable than Tolstoy's long philosophical digressions, to be perfectly honest.)

The cast is so sprawling that it wasn't until around page 500 that I was able to actually piece together who characters were and how they connected. Until then, I'd been treating it as a series of interesting vignettes, but was unable to make it into a more coherent picture. And suddenly it was all there, and the breadth and the detail really took my breath away.

There were parts of this book that almost moved me to tears, and that's unusual for books. And it took me weeks to read, which is also unusual, but I think gave the time to make everything I read seem more significant.

I don't know that this book is for everyone. It's a heavy Russian tome. The subject matter is heavy. But for me, it was one of the best I've read this year.

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