In late summer 1942 Kleist’s Army Group in the Caucasus seized the most important of the Soviet oilfields, near Maykop. German troops had reached Crete and North Cape, Northern Finland and the shores of the Channel. The desert fox, Marshal Erwin Rommel, was eighty kilometres from Alexandria. Chasseurs had hoisted the swastika over the peak of Mount Elbruz. Manstein had received orders to train giant cannons and Nebelwerfer rocket-launchers on Leningrad itself, the citadel of Bolshevism. The sceptical Mussolini was drawing up plans for his advance into Cairo and learning to ride an Arabian stallion. Dietl was advancing over the snow in northern latitudes never before fought over by any European army. Paris, Vienna, Prague and Brussels had become provincial German cities.— life and fate, p. 195
Tag: Russian writers
At the end of the shift, Nyeumolimov came in, black with coal-dust. “Well,” asked Abarchuk, “how’s the work going? Are people entering into the spirit of competition?”
“Little by little. The coal’s a military necessity — at least everyone understands that. Today the Culture and Education section received some posters: Let us help the Motherland with our shock labour!”
“You know what, someone ought to write a treatise on despair in the camps. There’s a despair that crushes you, another that attacks you suddenly, another that stifles you and won’t let you breathe. And then there’s a special kind that doesn’t do any of these things but somehow tears you to pieces from within — like a deep-sea creature brought suddenly up to the surface.”
From the forest and lakes came the breath of an old Russia Viktorov had previously only read about. Ancient tracks ran among these lakes and forests; houses and churches had been built from the tall, upright trees; the masts of sailing-boats had been hewn from them. The Grey Wolf had run through these forests . . . The earth beneath Viktorov’s boots was as squeaky and springy as an old mattress. The leaves on the surface were light, brittle and still separate from one another; under them lay leaves that had withered many years before and fused into a brown, crackling mass — the ashes of the life that had once burst into bud, rustled in the winds of a storm and gleamed in the sun after a shower.life and fate, pp. 158 – 159
Man and Fascism cannot co-exist. If fascism conquers, man will cease to exist and there will remain only man-like creatures that have undergone an internal transformation. But if man, man who is endowed with reason and kindness, should conquer, then Fascism must perish, and those who have submitted to it will once again become people.— life and fate, pp. 94 – 95
. . . a new decree was being printed: Jews are to be forbidden to walk on the pavements; they are required to wear a yellow patch, a Star of David, on the chest; they no longer have the right to use public transport, baths, parks, or cinemas; they are forbidden to buy butter, eggs, milk, berries, white bread, meat, or any vegetable vegetable other than potatoes; they are only allowed to make purchases in the market after six o’clock, when the peasants are already on their way home. The Old Town will be fenced off with barbed wire and people will only be allowed out under escort — to carry out forced labour. If a Jew is discovered in a Russian home, the owner will be shot . . .— life and fate, pp. 83 – 84
That morning I was reminded of what I’d forgotten during the years of the Soviet regime — that I was a Jew. Some Germans drove past on a lorry, shouting out: “Juden kaput!”
I got a further reminder from some of my own neighbors. The caretaker’s wife was standing beneath my window and saying to the woman next door: “Well, that’s the end of the Jews. Thank God for that!” What can have made her say that? Her son’s married to a Jew. She used to go and visit him and then come back and tell me all about her grandchildren.
The woman next door, a widow with a six-year-old daughter — a girl called Alyonushka with wonderful blue eyes, I wrote to you about her once — came round and said to me: “Anna Semyonovna, I’m moving into your room. Can you clear your things out by this evening?” “Very well, I’ll move into your room then.” “No, you’re moving into the little room behind the kitchen.”
It’s been a long while since self has read a book in the Tolstoyan mode. She figured now was a good time, since so much is going on in Eastern Europe — might help her to understand the various forces in play there.
About Vasily Grossman (from the Introduction by Robert Chandler, the translator)
- Vasily Grossman was born on 12 December 1905 in the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, the home of one of the largest communities in Eastern Europe. After studying chemistry at Moscow University, Grossman worked in a mine in the Donbas as an engineer and expert on safety precautions . . . During World War II Grossman worked for Red Star, the leading army newspaper. Grossman personally witnessed the disastrous retreats of the first year, the defense of Stalingrad and the capture of Berlin . . . He was also one of the first witnesses of the consequences of the Holocaust.
Part One, Chapter 2:
Day and night trainloads of men continued to arrive at the death camps and concentration camps. The air was full of the rumble of wheels, the whistling of locomotives and the thud of hundreds of thousands of prisoners marching to work, each with a five-figure number sewn onto his clothes. These camps — with their streets and squares, their hospitals and flea markets, their crematoria and their stadiums — were the expanding cities of a new Europe.— life and fate, by vasily grossman, p. 22
Even though he was carrying a very thick briefcase, he lacked the power to just house me wherever he pleased, but he did offer me the empty quarters of the Central Bank, where 260 rooms stood like pond water, quiet and empty.— The Ratcatcher, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy
He just tosses these sentences off like they were so many bon-bons.
Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.
As for firewood . . . in those days, many ventured into the attics, and so did I. I walked along the slanted darkness of the roofs like a thief, listening to the wind blaring in the chimneys, and spying a pale splotch of the sky through the broken window as the snowflakes settled over the debris.— The Ratcatcher, Story # 73 in The Big Book of Classic Fantasy
There is such an immediacy to his voice.
Kudos to translator Ekaterina Sedia. According to the Editor’s note, this was the first English translation of The Ratcatcher.
Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.
The thing about this anthology, it is just TOO LONG. How can one properly appreciate stories when the text is so dense and infinitesimally small, and the pieces are mostly short, so there is a pattern of same-ness that tends to dull the appetite.
Nevertheless, self has encountered a treasure in the latter stages of this book! And that treasure’s name is Alexander Grin!
He is represented by two short stories, and they are completely different from each other. One is about a house spirit with a tooth ache (In Russian, the house spirit is known as a domovoi). The second story (Story # 73 of this anthology) is about a ratcatcher and begins this way:
- In the spring of the year 1920, specifically in March, specifically on the twenty-second — let’s give the accuracy its due, so we may join the lap of sworn documentarists, without which the curious reader would probably start asking questions of the publishers — I went to the market. I went to the market on March 22 of, I repeat, the year 1920. It was the Sennaya Market. I cannot tell you that I positioned myself on a certain corner, nor can I remember what the newspapers were writing about on that day.
Wow, she loves that opening!
Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.