VASILY GROSSMAN BOOKS: “THE ROAD” AND “EVERYTHING FLOWS”

October 10, 2010 at 3:23 am | Posted in Books, Germany, History, Philosophy, Research, Russia | Leave a comment

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The Road

(New York Review Books Classics)

Vasily Grossman (Author)

Robert Chandler (Editor, Translator)

Elizabeth Chandler (Translator)

Olga Mukovnikova (Translator)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Grossman’s unsparing, literary account of the horrific ways Nazi Germany implemented its ethnic-cleansing program at Treblinka was one of the first reports of a death camp anywhere in Europe and eventually provided prosecutors at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal with crucial background information. The surprise is that up until now and English-language translation of Grossman’s lengthy article has never been published in its entirety. That will soon change with the publication of The Road, a collection of Grossman’s best short stories and war-time articles, including ‘The Hell of Treblinka.'” –Tobias Grey, The Wall Street Journal

“Grossman’s greatness is manifested in a constant ability to surprise his readers: where we lazily expect darkness and gloom, Grossman provides lightness and humour; what might seem at first glance to be narrow polemic turns out, when paid more attention, to have the grandeur of tragedy.”
—David Lea, The Literateur

“Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR.”
—Martin Amis

“Soviet author Grossman volunteered for the army when the Germans invaded in 1941 and spent more than three years as a special correspondent at the front for the army newspaper Red Star. His wartime writing established him as a major “voice” of war–a status resembling in many ways that of Ernie Pyle in America…Grossman was a perceptive observer with an eye for essential detail. His vignettes of the fighting at Kursk and the battles that brought the Red Army into Berlin are models of combat reporting, and the elegiac realism of his description of Treblinka merits wide anthologizing in Holocaust literature.” –Publishers Weekly

Product Description

The Road rings together short stories, journalism, essays, and letters by Vasily Grossman, the author of Life and Fate, providing new insight into the life and work of this extraordinary writer. The stories range from Grossman’s first success, “In the Town of Berdichev,” a piercing reckoning with the cost of war, to such haunting later works as “Mama,” based on the life of a girl who was adopted at the height of the Great Terror by the head of the NKVD and packed off to an orphanage after her father’s downfall. The girl grows up struggling with the discovery that the parents she cherishes in memory are part of a collective nightmare that everyone else wishes to forget. The Road also includes the complete text of Grossman’s harrowing report from Treblinka, one of the first anatomies of the workings of a death camp; “The Sistine Madonna,” a reflection on art and atrocity; as well as two heartbreaking letters that Grossman wrote to his mother after her death at the hands of the Nazis and carried with him for the rest of his life.

Meticulously edited and presented by Robert Chandler, The Road allows us to see one of the great figures of twentieth-century literature discovering his calling both as a writer and as a man.

Product Details:

· Paperback: 384 pages

· Publisher: NYRB Classics

· September 28, 2010

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 1590173619

· ISBN-13: 978-1590173619

This is the third volume of Grossman’s work that we owe to Robert Chandler and his various associates (the others are Life and Fate (New York Review Books Classics) and Everything Flows (New York Review Books Classics). All of them are great, although I really think he excels at the story form: in the novels he can sometimes press a little hard on the reader. So if you haven’t read Grossman before, I would certainly recommend this as the first thing to read. If you have read him, you don’t need my recommendation to get this book!

A list of the works included (since you can’t “search inside this book”)
Part One: The 1930s:
In the Town of Berdichev, A Small Life, A Young Woman and an Old Woman
Part Two: The War, the Shoah:
The Old Man, The Old Teacher, The Hell of Treblinka, The Sistine Madonna
Part Three: Late Stories
The Elk, Mama, Living Space, The Road, The Dog, In Kislovodsk
Part Four: Three Letters
Part Five: Eternal Rest (on cemeteries: “The cemetery lives an intense, passion-filled life.”)

Robert Chandler provides a characteristically sensitive introduction and prefaces to each part. His co-translators are Elizabeth Chandler and Olga Mukovnikova. Commentary and notes are by Chandler and Yury Bit-Yunan, and there is an Afterword (a reminiscence of the author) by Fyodor Gruber.

Everything Flows

(New York Review Books Classics)

Vasily Grossman (Author)

Robert Chandler (Translator, Introduction)

Elizabeth Chandler (Translator)

Anna Aslanyan (Translator)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Few novels confront human suffering on as massive a scale as this one. After his release into post-Stalinist Russia, Ivan Grigoryevich finds that the 30 years he spent in Stalin’s forced labor camps have wreaked terrible changes in himself and in Soviet society. He goes first to his cousin’s Moscow apartment, but he and his wife are preoccupied with petty successes secured by cooperation with a state-sanctioned campaign of anti-Semitism. Ivan then travels to Leningrad, where he finds work in a metal shop and rents a room from a widow who falls in love with him and shares stories from her past (most notably the forced collectivization of Ukrainian farms), providing a counterbalance to Ivan’s experiences in Siberia. Suffering is everywhere, but Grossman finds no glory or redemption in it, and just when you think things can’t get bleaker, he offers up a new vignette that sinks deeper into misery, though there is a glimmer of hope toward the end. The prose is rough in spots, but Grossman’s individual by individual portrayal of anguish gives readers a heartrending glimpse of the incomprehensible. (Nov.)

Review

“Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR” –Martin Amis

“After he submitted his masterful World War II novel Life and Fate to a publisher in 1960, the KGB confiscated the manuscript, his notes and even his typewriter (the book was later smuggled out of the country and printed in 1974). But this didn’t quiet Grossman, whose indictments of Stalinist Russia were at least as damning as those of George Orwell and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Understandably bitter over the suppression of his work, the author worked on Everything Flows—a shorter, but even more eviscerating, meditation on the monstrous results of the Soviet experiment—until his death from cancer in 1964. This new translation brings his searing vision to light… Fortunately, the KGB couldn’t keep Grossman’s books under wraps forever. His testament stands as a fitting tribute to the millions of voices that were prematurely silenced.”—Drew Toal, Time Out New York

“…a richly-woven narrative of historical events and individual destinies — a masterpiece of pain, moral outrage and gallows humour. Grossman has become recognised not only as one of the great war novelists of all time but also as one of the first and most important of witnesses to the defence of Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, the consequences of the Holocaust” —Business Standard

A “brilliant and courageous novel…readers will find hope in the narrator’s uncommon capacity to forgive and accept.”–Library Journal

“Few novels confront human suffering on as massive a scale as this one….Grossman’s individual by individual portrayal of anguish gives readers a heartrending glimpse of the incomprehensible. ” —Publishers Weekly

“This courageous novel, first published in samizdat, is a compelling restatement of some old truths about the fundamental and ineluctable nature of freedom.” –New & Noteworthy, The New York Times

“Remarkable…it trembles with the vision of freedom.” –Irving Howe, The New York Times

“[I]t is as eloquent a memorial to the anonymous little man in the Stalinist state as Dr. Zhivago is to the artistic spirit in post-Czarist Russia and The First Circle to the scientific intelligentsia.” –Thomas Lask, The New York Times

“Grossman traces the blame for the terror of the Stalin years back through Lenin, to the roots of the Russian character, to the mystical national soul that Russians have always considered their greatest strength…Grossman put his finger on the crux of the issue as today’s Russians see it: What responsibility do they bear for the horrors perpetrated in the course of Russian and Soviet history?” —Los Angeles Times

Product Details:

· Paperback: 272 pages

· Publisher: NYRB Classics

· December 1, 2009

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 1590173287

· ISBN-13: 978-1590173282
If Life and Fate (New York Review Books Classics) may rightfully be seen as Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece, his Everything Flows may rightfully be seen as his testament, a requiem if you will not only for his own life but for the lives of those who lived in his time and place.

“Everything Flows” tells a simple, yet emotionally deep and politically nuanced tale. The story begins with the 1957 return to Moscow of Ivan Grigoryevich after 30 years of forced labor in the Gulag. 1957 marked the year, following Khrushchev’s denunciation of the excesses of Stalin, in which the tide of prisoners returning from the Gulag reached its peak. He arrives at the Moscow flat of his cousin Nikolay. Nikolay, a scientist with less than stellar skills, has reached some measure of success at the laboratory through dint of being a survivor. The meeting in the flat is entirely unsatisfactory for both parties. Grossman paints a vivid picture of Nikolay, more than a bit jealous that Ivan’s light had always shone brighter than his own prior to Ivan’s arrest. Nikolay suffers from the guilt of one who was not arrested and who is painfully aware of the choices he made to keep from being arrested. It seems clear that Ivan represents a mirror into which Nikolay can see only his own hollow reflection.

Ivan leaves Moscow for his old city of Leningrad, the place where he was first arrested in 1927. By chance, he runs into the person, Pinegin, whose denunciation placed him in jail in the first place. Once again, Ivan is a mirror and Pinegin is horrified at what he is faced with, what he has buried for thirty years. Ironically, and to great effect, we see Pinegin’s horror recede once he settles down to a sumptuous lunch at a restaurant reserved for foreigners and party officials. Ivan does not know about the denunciation and Grossman here embarks on a discourse on the different types and forms of denunciation available to the Soviet citizen. It is a remarkable discourse that shows how many different ways there are to participate in a purge and how many ways there are to legitimize ones participation and/or acquiescence.

From Leningrad Ivan travels to a southern industrial city where he finds work and eventually finds a deep and satisfying love in the person of his landlady Anna. The centerpiece of that relationship is the brutal honesty involved; Anna spends a night detailing her role in the pointless, needless famine that swept the Ukraine in 1932-1933. It is an account made even more chilling by the straightforward, confessional nature of its telling. But it is also redemptive and shines a light on what might be called Grossman’s vision that love and freedom are two goals, not mutually exclusive, that an honest accounting of our lives forms the essence of our shared humanity.

The above summary does not do justice to the power of Grossman’s prose or to the literary and political importance of the work. Since the death of Stalin, the Soviet line had remained relatively firm – Stalin’s excesses were the product of a disturbed mind that represented a horrible deviation from the theory and principles of Leninism. The USSR‘s best path was the one that returned it to the path created by Lenin. Khrushchev first enunciated this line. Even Gorbachev’s perestroika was based on the theory that a return to first-principles, i.e. Leninism, would save the USSR from destruction.

Grossman, prophetically, did not buy into this line and Everything Flows’ last chapters are notable for a remarkable attack not only on Stalin but on Lenin and Lenin’s anti-democratic tendencies that had more in common with Ivan the Terrible than the principles of revolutionary democracy. “All the triumphs of Party and State were bound up with the name of Lenin. But all the cruelty inflicted on the nation also lay – tragically – on Lenin’s shoulders.” Grossman may have been the first to make this leap and he paid the price for making that leap. (This involves the suppression of his Life & Fate and Everything Flows.) Grossman’s explicit claim that Stalin was not a deviationist from Leninism but its natural-born progeny was profoundly subversive and there is no doubt in my mind that it was this difference that explains why, under Khruschev’s ‘thaw’, that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was publishe while Life and Fate and Everything Flows was banned.

Despite the horrors set out, quietly and without excess rhetoric, Grossman returns to a somewhat optimistic vision of mans search for freedom: “No matter how mighty the empire, all this is only mist and fog and, as such, will be blown away. Only one true force remains; only one true force continues to evolve and live; and this force is liberty. To a man, to live means to be free.”

Robert Chandler’s translation of Everything Flows is exquisite. He brings the same clarity and emotional investment in Grossman’s work that he brought to his prize-winning translations of Platonov and Hamid Ismailov’s The Railway. In short, Everything Flows is a treasure and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. L. Fleisig

A man returns from thirty years in the Gulag. He meets up with his cousin, who has done well, with the man who denounced him, with a woman–his landlady–who becomes his lover and tells him about her experiences, her complicity in the Ukrainian terror famine (a devastating chapter). The man meditates on the nature of Russia and the totalitarian state. This magnificent novel does not really have a plot, in the sense of a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end where everything gets tied up in a satisfactory knot. As the very title indicates, everything flows and keeps on flowing. Nor will you find here Solzhenitsyn’s savage indignation, but at the same time, in reading Grossman’s novel you don’t get off the hook by feeling that any of these people are so alien to you or to what you might have done or not done under similar circumstances. And as Chandler so beautifully puts it in his introduction, “Any story, truly told and truly listened to, can become a gift.”
The book includes an introduction, notes, a chronology–all very helpful. There is a previous translation of this novel (under the title Forever Flowing), which Chandler‘s version totally supersedes.

“Everything Flows.” is one of literature’s great gifts, one of the most insightful and moving books ever. In a way, it is both uplifting and humbling at the same time..

Through Grossman’s work, we, in some small way, can bear witness to an entire, tragic era via the “testament” that this book is

This short book is a novella with connected essays that somehow reveals both the nature of the individual characters and of a whole society under siege. It is beautifully written and translated, and with great economy of style, Ivan and the other characters come alive and we seem to enter their inner beings.

There is a great deal to read concerning the Soviet experience, including Grossman’s “Life and Fate” and Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Stalin and Stephen Cohen’s one on Bukharin as well as the wonderful novels of Victor Serge. First read “Everything Flows.”

Vasily Grossman

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