Life and Fate: Part 1

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Life and Fate: Part 1

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oct. 3, 2009, 4:39 pm

Thread for the discussion of Part 1 of the group read.

oct. 5, 2009, 12:56 pm

I now have the "left" and "right" bank part figured out. But, from which direction were the Germans advancing? It seems they were coming from the west, but if this is so, wouldn't they already be in Stalingrad by the time they reached the troops at the Volga? If they were coming from the East, wouldn't they hit the comamnd cetner before the trenched troops? I have checked the maps and I still cannot visually reconstruct this in my head. Sorry-- I'm a history and geography dumbass. Any information appreciated.

Editat: oct. 7, 2009, 5:13 am

I assume that the Russian names are transcribed a little different in English and in Norwegian, but I think I'll use the Norwegian transcriptions when I refer to characters in Life and Fate, hoping it won't be too confusing.
Maybe I'll learn a little about the English transcriptions as well ;-)

oct. 7, 2009, 11:19 am

Ah-- starting to make more sense now. I think I have the lay of the land-- after going back and re-reading some of the fore matter. I love the book so far. The subplots are told in interesting and different ways-- I would imagine there will be something here for everyone.

oct. 11, 2009, 3:41 am

From the Wikipedia article on Life and Fate:

"Victor (Pavlovich) Shtrum is the central figure in Grossman's novel.
... Victor Shtrum is a "self portrait" of Grossman himself.
Lyudmila is married to Victor Shtrum and has a daughter with him named Nadya.
Anna Semyonovna is Victor's mother.
Abarchuk is Lyudmila's first husband.
Tolya is Lyudmila's and Abarchuk's son.

I've reached chapter 17 of part I, and I assume I'll learn much more about this family and the Shaposhnikov family (Lyudmila's family I think) soon.

oct. 11, 2009, 4:08 am

I'm on chapter 26 and loving it.

I was confused in some early chapters when twice there were what I thought were dream sequences, but then they shifted to reality. Did I miss something? Was anyone else confused? I'll be more specific if you need me to. Right now it's waaayyyy past my bedtime and I need to put Life and Fate to bed.

oct. 11, 2009, 8:16 am

Can you be more specific?

Editat: oct. 13, 2009, 10:05 am

I am looking for the first time we see mention of "the mistress of the good hut." I've flipped through what I've already read twice and can't find it. If someone comes across it, can you please tell me where it is?

ETA: Never mind--it was in the introduction.

oct. 11, 2009, 9:32 pm

I am amazed by the scope of this novel. So many different threads! I have been wondering as I read how he wrote the different parts--did he write the novel chapter-by-chapter as we read it, or did he write did he write the chapters on Novikov, and then the sections on Viktor, etc?

oct. 11, 2009, 9:51 pm

>7 cabegley: Yes -- In chapter 9 (it's on my page 38) General Krylov is dreaming in the first few paragraphs. Apparently at "Then he heard a roar and a splash..." he's back in real time - ? That just wasn't clear to me, then the narration goes on to describe what is actually happening.

Then in chapter 12, (my page 50) Krymov dreams of "lying in a room with closed blinds, watching a patch of sunlight..." It does say he opened his eyes, but the scene still has a dreamlike quality to it, and I thought he was dreaming through all of it, but then it becomes apparent he isn't.

Even going back to these scenes and re-reading, I find it a bit confusing. Anyone else?

oct. 12, 2009, 3:09 am

Well, I assume most of the story is real time, but there are some retrospective scenes and dreamlike passages as well. Imo this is ONE of the reasons why great novels are great.

I read ch. 18 (Anna Semjonovna's letter to her son Viktor (Vitja, Vitenka, Vitka) Pavlovitsj Strum) yesterday. What a heart-rending chapter!

oct. 12, 2009, 11:43 pm

I love Chapter 21 (page 99-113 in my copy), particularly the scene where Getmanov is looking in on his children-- so moving. Lyudmila's visit to Saratov (Chapter 29-33) is very similar. It is amazing that Grossman was able present this sweeping epic about a whole country, and at the same time seemlessly weave in the most touching personal moments. Those chapters appeal to me much more than the war scenes. Though I do like the contrast and the way we "zoom in" from the war scene to the personal story that is a part of it.

I'm somewhere around page 200 and still have not met all the characters yet.

oct. 13, 2009, 12:35 am

>11 kjellika:: Oh yes, the letter was heart breaking.

Grossman was certainly a passionate writer. I've read the chapters of the journey to the gas chambers, talk about heart breaking. And then he steps out of the story and writes, essentially, an essay about how, why something like this horror could happen. I think I will be returning to chapter 50 again and again.

>9 cabegley: that's an interesting question to ponder. How would one take on such an epic and keep all the characters straight? It's so seamlessly woven together.

oct. 13, 2009, 1:27 am

I just read Chapter 50, and yes, he really does summarize the evil-in-a-nutshell. How did it come to this. I was trying to imagine if I could see the U.S. population, in my lifetime, do something similar-- get so desperate and angry that it could be convinced to erase a population from the Earth-- or maybe not convinced, but go along with it anyway. Not a pretty thought.

oct. 13, 2009, 10:09 am

The essays are a good example of where I prefer this book to War and Peace. They seem so much more organic to the book. (I abandoned Tolstoy's essay at the end of War and Peace--just couldn't make it through.) I feel less as if Grossman is pontificating, and more as if he's moving the story forward.

>14 technodiabla: Hard as it is to picture, I think we can never say never. It's happened in too many countries (and is going on today) to think that we would be exempt. A frightening thought, though.

oct. 13, 2009, 11:22 am

>15 cabegley: Exactly. Grossman says, "It is necessary to prepare the population by means of a special campaign. And in this case it is not enough to rely merely on the instinct for self-preservation; it is necessary to stir up feelings of real hatred and revulsion." (page 213, chapter 50).

This happens every single day here in the States on talk radio. Us vs them. Never before have the hatemongers had such a big podium to spread hatred, lies and misinformation. If the US were to plunge into a major Depression, I can see something like this happening here. A little too easily, imo. Look at the after effects of 9/11 -- in this country, every male from a Middle Eastern country (except Israel, of course) was required to register with the federal government. We still have a number of white supremacists here who carry out acts of violence and spread hatred and fear. Yes, we've come a long way to name racism and even to heal from it a bit, but we are definitely not exempt.

What about you folks from other countries? What's the political climate like in Norway these days kjellika?

oct. 13, 2009, 4:45 pm

I think the political climate in Norway has been quite steady for a long time. In September we had an election to a new parliament (Stortinget) and as a result Jens Stoltenberg from the Labour Party (Social Democratic) was chosen to continue (PM last four years) as prime minister for the next four years (until 2013).
For the last 30-40 years the immigration to Norway has been rather extensive, but I think the immigrants have integrated without many difficulties.
Some problems of course, but not big ones. Fortunately I've heard very little of violence and hatred so far.
I assume elder people (older than me, of course) dislike the immigration more than younger people do. Just a feeling, and not so curious if you imagine there were VERY few Africans, Arabs a.o. in Norway 40-50 years ago. In 1960 Norway was a quite homogeneous country.

You might see:


oct. 15, 2009, 3:27 am

I've reached the end of Part 1. Wow. Grossman has a way of tossing out one liners that just devastate me.

I'm taking a break for a couple of days and reading a couple other books. I need a breather.

Editat: oct. 15, 2009, 6:17 am

I read this in early 2007 and it was tremendous. My review is on this site if anyone is interested, but I do not wish to spoil your own reading pleasure. Suffice to say I regard it as the definitive 20th century Russian novel, over and above Doktor Zhivago.

oct. 18, 2009, 3:21 pm

Finished part 1 today.
A great novel so far, and I'm learning much about WWII that I didn'n know.
Very interesting characters and an exciting story.
I'll start on part 2 the day after tomorrow. I assume.

oct. 19, 2009, 5:19 am

Wow. Grossman has a way of tossing out one liners that just devastate me
Definitely teelgee. What surprised me about this is the humour in some of the sections. God, he's good a characterisation as well. It's a really quick read actually for me. I'm surprised. I thought it would be one of those that you wade through (in a pleasurable fashion) but his style is very different from my imaginings. Only about half way through the first sections so I'll be back.

oct. 19, 2009, 11:40 am

Much easier to read than War and Peace and somehow Grossman's characters seem more real. Still reading Part 1.

oct. 19, 2009, 1:08 pm

I'm almost done with Part 1-- should finish up this week easily. Not only am I learning about WWII, but about the Communist government and society. I assume this is an even greater focus of Parts 2 & 3. It is really wonderful how Grossman zooms in and out from the very personal to the universal, breautifully and seemlessly. This appears to be a quality of the writing throughout so far-- not just one instance. I'm looking forward to the rest.

oct. 23, 2009, 12:38 pm

Part 1 DONE. I have to go back and do some research on Menshevics v. Bolshevics, Russian Soviet v. Russian Solialist, etc. The Chapters on the tensions between these various groups was a bit lost on me. Will Start Part 2 this weekend.

Editat: oct. 23, 2009, 1:53 pm

Great, techno -- want to share some of your research? In 25 words or less? ;o)

ETA I haven't started back up with Part 2 yet. I think I need a week in between parts.

oct. 23, 2009, 2:36 pm

I'm finally well into Part I and enjoying it mightily. Did anyone else know that there's a 3 1/2 hour stage version that premiered in NYC last summer? I don't remember reading a thing about it, but here's a review:

oct. 23, 2009, 6:54 pm

Here's some wikipedia paraphrasings that might be helpful to some for the later Chapters in Part I.

Russian Social-Democratic Party, was a revolutionary socialist Russian political party formed in 1898 to unite the various revolutionary organizations into one party. The RSDLP later split into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions in 1903, with the Bolsheviks eventually becoming the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Mensheviks are more moderate than Bolsheviks in their socialist tendencies.

The 1917 Revolution (February Revolution) overthrew the Czar the the Mensheviks controlled the Provisional Government. The following October Revolution the Bolsheviks led by Lenin (The Red Army) overthrew the Provisional Government and took control somewhat savagely. The Soviet Communist Party grew out of this after many years in civil unrest.
More details at:

This link has more info on Stalin's Rule (not really as Lenin planned) and the 1921 split up of the non-Russian territories that became the USSR.

A kulak is an affluent peasant. They suffered under Stalin, who insisted they integrate into a classless system and give up property ownership.

oct. 28, 2009, 6:31 pm

I just finished Part 1 and i'm struggling with the book. I'm finding it difficult to become familiar with many of the characters after brief introductions followed by long absences from the narrative...i'd be completely lost without the list of charaters at the back. And my poor knowledge of Russian history doesn't help! Still, i'll give Part 2 a go.

Editat: oct. 29, 2009, 2:05 am

I hope you'll give part to a go!
And I am (almost) sure you'll become much more familiar with the characters as you read part 2. At least I did. Good luck!!! :))

oct. 29, 2009, 8:51 am

#28 - Thanks, scarper, I thought I was the only one! If it weren't for this group, I think I would have shelved this book!

I agree that there are some extremely moving scenes through the expression of compassion, violence, hurt, misunderstandings... but the thread between those scenes is so tenuous that the mood is immediately broken. Despite all of those pages, so many questions are left unanswered too: why did no one like Tolya except his mother (besides the fact he was an illegitimate son), whatever happened to the little boy David on train (presumably killed, but it would be nice to know), where is Yevgenia now that she has her ration card? I was attentively noting all the characters but there are so many, and they disappear so quickly, I've given up.

I understand Grossman wants to give a full account of the various views and political complexities in the USSR, but really... couldn't it be better a little tidier? I'll put it down to the fact that it was a first, unedited, draft. I'm reading this as a series of intertwined short stories - it seems to make more sense to me that way and I can more fully enjoy the impact of the powerful emotionally wrought scenes that appear here and there.

oct. 29, 2009, 8:58 am

>30 Cecilturtle: I think it's the vast scope and constant switch from perspective to perspective that makes this novel great as a whole. It's a difficult rhythm to get into, but I think you'll feel rewarded at the end.

Regarding Tolya, I don't think the others didn't like him--I think Lyudmila is hyper-aware that Tolya is Viktor's stepson, and projects that he is seen as lesser by the rest of the family. Viktor and Lyudmila's inability to communicate with one another, and their misinterpretation of each other's feelings and motivations, is a thread that runs through the book.

You will get back to David and Yevgenia eventually.

oct. 29, 2009, 9:29 am

>30 Cecilturtle: "...a series of intertwined short stories" is very much my impression of the book so far.

oct. 29, 2009, 2:40 pm

#31, That was my impression too -- that it is the scope and interweaving of perspectives and stories that makes Life and Fate so powerful.

nov. 5, 2009, 11:10 am

I have read Part 1 and the interweaving of the different stories are deftly done so that I have never been bored. The camp scenes are very moving at times. The life of the soldiers I have found very illuminating. The hardship and fortitude of both groups are very well described.

nov. 14, 2009, 12:29 pm

I am barely into the book, (only on page 48) but am finding myself engrossed in it. His writing is wonderful and his timing thus far is impeccable. I found this to all but stop my heart:
"As he overcame the enemy resistance, the advancing soldier had perceived everything separately: a shell-burst here, a rattle of machine-gun fire there, an enemy soldier there, hiding behind that shelter and about to run...He can't not run---he's cut off from that isolated piece of artillery, that isolated machine-gun, that isolated soldier blazing away beside him. But I -- I am we, I am the mass of infantry going into the attack, I am the supporting tanks and artillery, I am the flare lighting up our common cause. And then suddenly I am alone -- and everything that was isolated and weak has fused into a solid roar of enemy rifle-fire, machine-gun fire, and artillery fire. This united enemy is now invincible; the only safety lies in my flight, in hiding my head, in covering my shoulders, my forehead, my jaw..." How beautifully written is that?
What a difference; reading this and reading War and Peace at the same time. War and Peace is actually relaxing after this. Right now at the beginning of the book there is so much happening in so many different places all at the same time.
It is sad, depressing, painful to read, but exciting at the same time.

Editat: nov. 21, 2009, 12:37 pm

I am now up to Part two and it strikes me that the war itself has become a major character of it's own in this book. Life and Fate is very much more about the war than the individuals involved in the war. We are seeing snippets of their lives and thoughts but not truly getting to know and getting involved with them other than perhaps Victor.
I recall reading that this book is much better than Doctor Zhivago but I am finding it difficult to compare the two. Doctor Zhivago is about people in the Russian Revolution and in a totally different space. Life and Fate is about WWII with mainly Russian people living and involved in that time and space. So to me it is like comparing apples to avacados. Love them both though. And I am finding no down time in Love and Fate. It is a very intense book.