Tag: Vasily Grossman
Because Krymov has not been charged, he cannot be put on trial. He exists in the limbo of Lubyanka Prison, serving out an indeterminate sentence.
Once a fellow prisoner advised him:
- “You should help them formulate a charge. How about this? Feeling a wild hatred for everything new, I groundlessly criticized works of art that had been awarded a Stalin Prize.”
One of the main characters in Life and Fate is a man named Krymov — a party commissar, tasked with making sure all men carry out their patriotic duty in service to the state. Somewhere around p. 600, he is denounced. Which is a very special process, not sure yet how it works, but apparently someone denounced Krymov, and without much ado, he becomes Political Prisoner xxx. No time to tell anyone, his head is shaved, his belt is removed, the buttons of his trousers are cut off, and he has the full-body search. Finally, he finds himself in a cell with a bunch of other people whose last names begin with “K.”
Self has to remind herself over and over, this is not Kafka. This is real. Vasily Grossimov was a journalist and worked with some of the biggest dailies in Russia. He felt Russian most of his life, until he was reminded that he couldn’t be Russian, because he was a Jew.
The prisoners got ready to go to sleep. The light continued to glare down; Krymov could feel someone watching through the spy-hole as he unwound his foot-cloths, pulled up his pants and scratched his chest. It was a very special light; it was there not so that they could see, but so that they could be seen. If it had been found more convenient to observe them in darkness, they would have been kept in darkness.— life and fate, p. 625
This tiny house, at the crook of the Volga River, which is shortly to be the apex of the Russian spear into the iron-clad German forces besieging Stalingrad, has, of course, an indomitable leader. His name is Grekov, and he is quite an ordinary man, never shouts, never raises his voice, but he must be quite something if a young soldier named Seryoza Shaposhnikov, taken to Division Headquarters to make report, can’t wait to get back to that house!
There is also a very young woman named Katya, who has volunteered to be a radio operator, who is of course the object of all the soldiers’ romantic dreams, but who the indomitable leader Grekov has made clear belongs to him. Of course, this being wartime, there are long stretches of boredom between the shelling attacks. The men occupy themselves by listing which men in the house Katya likes most. At the bottom of the list is the young, inexperienced Seryoza. No one thinks a young, inexperienced woman would go for an equally inexperienced man. But of course, since this is a Russian novel, it’s Seryoza that Katya loves.
She’s hiding in the rubble of the nearly ruined house (next to the corpse of a dead cat), when she hears a voice:
“Don’t be afraid,” said the darkness. “It’s me.”
Who do you think it is?
The commander finds them asleep in each other’s arms the next morning. He spends a long time just staring at them. The boy has “his head on the girl’s shoulder and his arm round her back; it looked as though he were afraid of losing her. Their sleep was so quiet and so still they might have been dead.”
At dawn, somebody woke them up: Hey, you two! The commander wants to see you!
All this happens in Part II, Chapter 17 of Life and Fate, on the eve of the Battle of Stalingrad.
Quote of the Day: General Friedrich Paulus, Commander of the 6th Army, Charged with Taking Stalingrad
“I believe in victory. But you know what? There’s something quite senseless and unnecessary about the whole struggle for this city . . . we shall capture the Tractor Factory. But that won’t help us cover our flank. The Russians are going to attack — von Weichs is quite sure. None of our bluffing will stop that.”— life and fate, p. 382
That growing unease you feel when you’ve spent an entire evening chatting with an old friend, and when you leave his home, another friend is waiting for you outside and says, gasping a little with the effort of saying something so terrible, “I think your friend’s an informer. Be careful.”
And you think back on the conversation you’ve just had, the scene in the old friend’s house, and it is, very pointedly, about Jews. And the subject was introduced by — that’s right — none other than the old friend. And the book’s main character, Viktor Pavlovich, had thought nothing of the conversation because he didn’t feel Jewish himself. Well, he was a Jew, and his mother was a Jew, but he had been born in Russia, and he felt Russian.
Viktor: “That’s nonsense. I don’t believe a word of it.”
Madyarov: “Can’t you see? All his friends and all the friends of his friends are just labour-camp dust. His whole circle has vanished. He’s the only one left. What’s more, he’s flourishing. He’s been granted his doctorate.”
And you, dear reader, get the most awful twist in your stomach, because you know it’s lights out for Viktor, he (and his mother) are on their way to either a German gas chamber or a Soviet labour camp.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Novikov’s tank corps was on its way to the Front. The naive young soldiers, men who had not yet received their baptism of fire, believed they were the ones who would take part in the decisive operation. The older men just laughed; Makarov, the commanding officer of the 3rd Brigade, and Fatov, the best of the battalion commanders, had seen all this too many times before.— life and fate, p. 326
Russia seemed like a wounded animal that had been driven back into the sand-dunes, into steppes fit only for camels; there she was, lying on the harsh earth, impotent, unable ever to rise again.— life and fate, p. 294
A new character makes an appearance: Lieutenant-Colonel Darensky (also a new setting: the Russian steppe).
Darensky got out of his car and looked at a horseman on top of a small hill. Dressed in a long robe tied by a piece of string, he was sitting on his shaggy pony and surviving the steppe. He was very old; his face looked as hard as stone. Darensky called out to the man and then walked up to him, holding out his cigarette-case. The old man turned in his saddle; his movenent somehow combined the agility of youth with the thoughtful caution of age. He looked in turn at the hand holding out the cigarettes, at Darensky’s face, at the pistol hanging by his side, at the three bars indicating his rank, and at his smart boots. Then he took a cigarette and rolled it between his fine, brown, childlike fingers.— life and fate, pp. 292 – 293
No one understood how appalled her husband had been by the savagery of general collectivization and the events of 1937. She alone understood his spiritual purity. But then she alone knew how servile he was in the face of power . . . That was why he was so capricious at home, such a petty tyrant. That was why Masha had to clean his shoes for him, why she had to fan him in hot weather with her headscarf, why she had to keep the mosquitoes off with a branch when they went for walks near their dacha.— life and fate, p. 287