By Vassily Grossman
This novel is completely imbued with melancholy. It tries to make some sort of sense out of the lives lost to Stalinism but fails to do so. At different times there is a glimmer of hope but the reality of the world in which it is set extinguishes this. The novel was unfinished and I think it could have become a major twentieth century work alongside Life and Fate. As it stands it changes two thirds of the way through to Ivan’s meditation on Stalinism which we can accurately surmise is actually Grossman’s voice. Books like this need to be read because they are not a trite summary of something past, they are a complex unyielding document of man’s inhumanity within the context of a greater cause. I can’t say that it was an enjoyable read but it was a thought provoking read and an important read. There are structural problems with the book because it was unfinished. Ivan becomes Grossman. If Grossman had been given more time I am certain that the ideas in the meditation would have been given a fictional voice within the novel As it stands though, the last part of the novel is very powerful and you feel that Grossman has done away with all this fictional artifice and is stating his views clearly and with power. The subject relates to Stalinism but it has a wider political context. The episode relating to the famine in the Ukraine where millions are believed to have died through Uncle Joe’s determined inactivity is particularly distressing. The novel achieves its purpose without sentiment which is its strength. Events and ideas are told as they are and we ourselves imbue them with sadness.