A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945 edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova (Knopf), 378 pages, $39.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Vasily Grossman, a long-forgotten chronicler of the cruellest years on the deadliest front in the bloodiest war in history, turned slaughter to literature in simple and shattering terms.
Grossman's reporting has been recovered from the oblivion of Stalinist suppression, and is now available in A Writer At War.
A correspondent with the Red Star, Grossman covered the Soviet Union's war with Nazi Germany from the time the first jackboot crossed Russia's border until the red flag fluttered over Berlin's burned out chancellory.
For Grossman, the tide of fascism sweeping over his homeland was doubly heartbreaking. He knew that his mother, trapped behind enemy lines in the Ukraine, would disappear into Hitler's anti-Semitic murder machine. But despite his personal torment, Grossman continued to write. Readers across the Soviet Union were caught up in his dramatic telling of the great events of their times.
His description of the Battle of Stalingrad is as heart-pounding today as it must have been 64 years ago, when the stakes could not have been higher. And Grossman's intelligence and command of language turn Stalingrad and the other battles he covered into great literature.
He travelled west with the Red Army hot on the heels of the dying German army, seeing the scorched fields where villages had once stood, speaking with those who somehow survived under the Germans.
It is Grossman's description of what he found at the Treblinka death camp that is most gut-wrenching. The earth, he writes, threw out crushed bones, teeth, clothes, papers.
Vasily Grossman's pen is as poignant and vital as ever.
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