Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Life and Fate

No, I cannot hope to encompass these themes in one post. Vasily Grossman has done so though in 800 pages of prose that, at times, leaves the reader breathless at its brilliance, even in translation.

I have just finished reading this magnificent novel. It is to be relished, read slowly, and absorbed. Its theme is totalitarianism, set against the background of the Battle of Stalingrad. The power of the novel lies in its moral clarity whilst exploring the human origins of the brutalities of the Twentieth Century. In a self conscious literary reference to Chekhov, Grossman celebrates individuality. It is a book of hope set in the most despairing of times. At its heart lies an evocation of "The private kindness of one individual towards another; a petty, thoughtless kindness; an unwitting kindness. A kindness outside any system of social or religious good."

The theme of human liberty is also strong; "Man's innate yearning for freedom can be suppressed but never destroyed. Totalitarianism cannot renounce violence. If it does, it perishes. Eternal, ceaseless violence, overt or covert, is the basis of totalitarianism. Man does not renounce freedom voluntarily. This conclusion holds out hope for our time, hope for the future."

This is an astonishing novel, both intelligent and moving, and one of striking relevance for the current day.

1 comment:

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