As I wrote here (and Sashura writes at more length here), the BBC’s Radio 4 is doing a dramatization of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, one of the great novels of the twentieth century and almost certainly the greatest novel of WWII; it began Sunday, but all the episodes are available for download—see the schedule page for links to individual episodes (as well as a pdf of the family and other relationships, very useful for this sprawling epic). I meant to write about it Sunday but forgot, and then our cable got cut; thank goodness for downloadable episodes, because I haven’t been able to start listening myself. I’m very much looking forward to it.


  1. Can’t you listen to it and tell us what you think?

  2. He could. But it would be wrong.

  3. Alas, I’m editing a monster book (an edition, in Greek and Latin, with translation and commentary of an account of a third-century martyr), and I don’t dare take the time until I feel quite comfortable about the deadline.

  4. There is a lot of praise in The Guardian’s blog.
    The book’s story is of course an interesting footnote to an adjacent Languagehat post about “things which were forever”, because it gives a quantitative estimate of the “Soviet foreverness” (I was supposed to take 200 years to publish it, by Comrade Suslov’s famous estimate, and in reality it too 20 years). I was especially surprised to find many literary-essays-for-sale about Life & Fate on Russia’s cheater-student networks. The novel must have made it into the grade school curriculum by now, then?

  5. I don’t know how to feel about that—it’s great that it’s recognized as a classic and widely read, but I personally would not assign it to students below college level; it’s not only long and complicated but deeply disturbing. That death-camp scene is hard to take even for an adult.

  6. would not assign it to students below college level
    I’d agree in principle, but, say, mother’s letter (ch.18 p I), Shtrum’s ‘eureka moment’ resulting from ‘bitter freedom (ch 67, pI and ch6 pII), the camp chapter on Yershov (ch73), then Stalingrad chapters, when Beriozkin overcomes pneumonia with the help of his wife’s letter (ch17) and Serezha-Katya story in Grekov’s house (ch22) and a poem in prose in ch50 ‘Life is freedom’, – these can go straight into grade school (secondary school) anthologies. There is simple depth, beautiful style, humour and a self-contained enjoyable story in each. Each can be discussed in class like in a readers’ group, each can be treated with a didactic turn for younger students.
    It all depends, of course, on how you see the purpose of literature/language teaching.

  7. That’s true, I can see it being mined for useful extracts like that.

  8. Should have properly commented in this 4 weeks-old post but it’s already closed. This one just might be the next best if we are talking about WWII and Gulag reflections in Russian literature… and, lo and behold, the adventures of the linguists.
    Strugatsky’s 1962 “Attempted Escape” (“Попытка к бегству”) is kind of developing the ground for their later, deeper works. The short novel, deeply tragic as it is, has many embedded funny linguistic, language-reconstruction, and machine-translation sorts of cross-cultural blunders.

  9. Thanks, I’ll look for it!

  10. I wrote about it here.

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