Life and Destiny: The Soviet Novel ‘Too Dangerous to Read’


The result is a Broglie landscape that reveals the grand sweep of history combined with the intricate details within. In Life and Fate, we see not only the broom, but all the human dust scattered with it. Grossman may have aimed for something like War and Peace, but because of his time on the front line, he fell midway between Tolstoy’s age-defining epic and Chekhov’s timeless short stories. One such event follows a young unmarried woman named Sophia who encounters an unaccompanied young boy named David in a narrow cattle truck on the way to Auschwitz.

In 1941, Grossman’s Jewish mother Killed by the Nazis in a mass execution in Ukraine and his reports from the liberated death camp in Treblinka were cited as evidence in Nuremberg. Life and Destiny is as much a novel about genocide as it is a novel about war.

Upon their arrival, David was sentenced to death. Sophia is a doctor and the Nazis are ready to spare her. She refuses. Instead, Sophia went to her death so she could hold David in the gas chamber, allowing him to feel like a son and allowing her to feel like a mother.

acts of kindness

Linda Grant, a novelist who captured life and destiny after seeing Grossman’s name in Befor’s footnotes, says the novel is filled with “nice everyday actions not driven by morality, but driven by the moment.” The poison that turns people against each other in every thread of the story is ideology. Soldiers, revolutionaries and civilians alike are denounced by the righteous Stalinists. To survive, they betray innocent people as well. Grossman knew it because it happened to him, too. He risked and won others, not for success but just to survive. “The lesson is that you shouldn’t believe in an overarching ideology, it’s against moral certainty,” Grant tells BBC Culture.

Grossman knew such a novel could not be published under Stalin, but in 1961, five years after Khrushchev’s unclassified speech, it must have felt like a good time to try. It was now or never. When Grossman submitted his manuscript, it was visited by the KGB, who ransacked his apartmentThree copies of the manuscript were confiscated. One will land on the desk of the chief ideologist and censor of the party, Mikhail Suslov, Who is said to have summoned Grossman to his office to explain that life and fate were too dangerous to be published “for another two hundred to three hundred years” – despite this quote was interrogated Written by Yuri Pete-Jonah, Grossman biographer.

It is often said that war involves long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. Life and Destiny is a journalistic style and he has never had a chance to edit it. Chapter after chapter offers us the experience of everyday life on the front lines of authoritarianism. As the reader slowly gets to know the characters, he almost becomes comfortable. But every 50 pages or so there will be a very heartbreaking passage.

Khrushchev had not brought a new opening, but his speech inadvertently lit a candle in the darkness that burned long enough for life and destiny to exist. Grossman spent the last few years of his life in a state of utter depression, telling friends that his book had been “arrested.” In 1964 he died with his book behind bars. But a decade later, a copy of the Soviet Union was smuggled on microfilm, and in 1988, under Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy, Russians and Ukrainians were finally allowed to hold Grossman’s masterpiece in their hands. Somehow it seems that the truth often finds a way to escape the clutches of totalitarian regimes. The same is seldom said of truth-wrenching.

love books? join BBC Cultural Book Club On Facebook, a community for literature fanatics around the world.

If you’d like to comment on this story or anything else you’ve seen on BBC Culture, head over to our site Facebook Page or email us at Twitter.

And if you like this story, Subscribe to the bbc.com weekly newsletter, called the main menu. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *