A Writer at War

Few intellectuals and writers survived Stalin’s persecution and the WWII. One of the few fortunate survivors was Vasili Grossman, whose ‘Life and Fate’ was to be published outside the USSR in the sixties. It was then heralded as the ‘War and Peace’ of the 20th century. Besides the truly great novel that he wrote, he was also the war correspondent few of whose despatches have seen the light of day.

William Grimes reviews the collection of Grossman’s despatches that have now been translated into English by Antony Beaver, author of Stalingrad.

Grossman specialized in the vignette, the quick snapshot that captured a few moments of a story moving at top speed. It is usually a few salty lines of dialogue or a strange, horrifying detail caught on the fly that make his journal entries and his newspaper articles spring to life.

“There is a flattened Romanian,” he wrote, surveying the battlefield outside Stalingrad. “A tank has driven over him. His face has become a bas-relief.” In Berlin, he noted, “ladies wearing fashionable hats, carrying bright handbags, are cutting pieces of meat off dead horses lying on the pavement.”

Brief jottings suggest the magnitude of Russian suffering and the ferocity of combat waged against a technologically superior enemy.

A complete despatch here.

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