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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Life and Fate

Vasily Grossman

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase Life and Fate

Title: Life and Fate
Author: Vasily Grossman
Genre: Novel
Written: (1960) (Eng. 1985)
Length: 871 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Life and Fate - US
Life and Fate - UK
Life and Fate - Canada
Vie et Destin - France
Leben und Schicksal - Deutschland
  • Russian title: Жизнь и судьба
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Robert Chandler

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Had a go at it, but didn't quite live up to all build-up

Chances that we will review it:

Still a possibility, but it's not a high priority

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A+ 25/3/2007 Martin Kettle
Hudson Review . Summer/2006 Tess Lewis
The Independent . 27/10/2006 Boyd Tonkin
London Rev. of Books A 18/10/2007 John Lanchester
National Review . 6/6/1986 Charles Nicol
New Criterion . 3/2007 Michael Weiss
The New Republic . 5/5/1986 Robert Conquest
The NY Rev. of Books . 17/7/1986 Josef Skvorecky
The Observer . 9/5/2010 Phil Mongredien
Raritan . Spring/2007 Jochen Hellbeck

  Review Consensus:

  It's a masterpiece

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book's real subject is the daily endurance of the human spirit amid the monumental pressures of absolute war and totalitarian rule, communist as well as fascist. There are terrible scenes, searingly described. And yet, if it were possible to distil the subject matter into one word - and it is so rich a work that the attempt is probably futile - that word would be freedom. This is a novel about what it is to be a free human being." - Martin Kettle, The Guardian

  • "As it sweeps between world-shaking events and the exquisite minutiae of private life, Grossman's narrative energy and inexhaustible humanity light up every page of an absolute masterpiece." - Boyd Tonkin , The Independent

  • "That greatness is to do with scale. This is one of the hardest qualities to demonstrate, and it is made harder by the unpyrotechnic flatness of Grossmanís writing; although it has its virtuosities and set pieces, these are at the level of the character sketch rather than the brilliant sentence or flashy paragraph. Once you get used to this, it comes to seem a virtue; thereís no writerly showing-off. What there is is an immense depth of feeling and experience. (...) One test of greatness in fiction is unflinchingness, and Life and Fate is utterly unflinching, taking the reader both into the prison camps of the Soviet state and the death camps of the Nazis (.....) Life and Fate still seems to me to be a grossly under-read book." - John Lanchester, London Review of Books

  • "As in the classic Russian novels, dozens of characters wander through these pages, with fascinating appearances by both Hitler and Stalin as well as other historical figures. There are no villains, no melodramatic scenes; every word is confident, lucid, certain. None of the characters is ideal, but all of them, even the Germans, are more noble when suffering than when on top of things." - Charles Nicol, National Review

  • "Life and Fate is a great novel not least because it captures what Grossman once called the "ruthless truth of war," and the even more ruthless truth of absolutism, whatever its ethos. That artistic legidmacy is not sacrificed in the process is quite astounding." - Michael Weiss, New Criterion

  • "With such boldly expressed heresy, it's perhaps not surprising that Life and Fate caused a stir upon its completion in 1960." - Phil Mongredien, The Observer

  • "Grossman's literary re-creation of the soldiers' war experience has arresting power because it came directly out of his own life and the lives of people close to him." - Jochen Hellbeck, Raritan

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       Pretty much universally hailed, everyone seems to consider Life and Fate the World War II counterpart to Tolstoy's War and Peace.

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Life and Fate: Reviews: Vasily Grossman:
  • Profile by Keith Gessen in The New Yorker
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Soviet author Vasily Grossman (Василий Семёнович Гроссман) lived 1905 to 1964.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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