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Described in Le Monde as ‘the greatest Russian novel of the twentieth century’, Grossman’s Life and Fate has at its centre the battle of Stalingrad. The most obvious comparison is with Tolstoy, and it’s a comparison that Grossman’s epic, which explains as well as any history book what the ‘Great Patriotic War’ meant to the Russian people, can comfortably bear.
John Lanchester writes:
Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece Life and Fate is fascinating for many reasons, and one of them is the way in that it is both a pastiche and a personal statement; a conscious, cold-blooded attempt to sum up everything Grossman knew about the Great Patriotic War, and at the same time to rewrite War and Peace. Tolstoy’s novel was the only book Grossman read during the war, and he read it twice; War and Peace hangs over Grossman’s book as a template and a lodestar, and the measure of Grossman’s achievement is that a comparison between the two books is not grotesque.