Vasi­ly Gross­man and the Sovi­et Century

Alexan­dra Popoff

January 1, 2013

The defin­i­tive biog­ra­phy of Sovi­et Jew­ish dis­si­dent writer Vasi­ly Grossman.
If Vasi­ly Grossman’s 1961 mas­ter­piece, Life and Fate, had been pub­lished dur­ing his life­time, it would have reached the world togeth­er with Pasternak’s Doc­tor Zhiva­go and before Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag. But Life and Fate was seized by the KGB. When it emerged posthu­mous­ly, decades lat­er, it was rec­og­nized as the War and Peace of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Always at the epi­cen­ter of events, Gross­man (1905 – 1964) was among the first to describe the Holo­caust and the Ukrain­ian famine. His 1944 arti­cle The Hell of Tre­blin­ka” became evi­dence at Nurem­berg. Grossman’s pow­er­ful anti-total­i­tar­i­an works liken the Nazis’ crimes against human­i­ty with those of Stal­in. His com­pas­sion­ate prose has the ever­last­ing qual­i­ty of great art. Because Grossman’s major works appeared after much delay we are only now able to exam­ine them prop­er­ly. Alexan­dra Popoff’s author­i­ta­tive biog­ra­phy illu­mi­nates Grossman’s life and legacy.

Discussion Questions

Vasi­ly Gross­man was one of the great­est for­got­ten writ­ers of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. His tal­ent was prodi­gious, but he was held back by the tyran­ni­cal Sovi­et sys­tem under which he lived his entire life. His strug­gle to be an hon­est writer and yet sur­vive under the repres­sive Sovi­et regime would have forced a less­er man to com­pro­mise. Yet, Gross­man was deter­mined to express his true artis­tic vision despite the impo­si­tions of the oppres­sive state cen­sors. Gross­man­’s strug­gle to express his true self while liv­ing in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment mir­rors the eter­nal strug­gle of the Jew­ish peo­ple, who want to express their Jew­ish selves while still remain­ing wel­come in often unfriend­ly envi­ron­ments. Gross­man had a dif­fi­cult life, with his moth­er mur­dered by the Nazis and his great­est work, Life and Fate, cen­sored by the gov­ern­ment until years after his death. Alexan­dra Pop­poff bril­liant­ly describes Grossman’s back­ground, his strug­gles, his works, and his lega­cy, pro­duc­ing a work that will go a long way to bur­nish­ing Grossman’s insuf­fi­cient­ly remem­bered career.