This is part of a detailed, detached account of what happened when people entered a gas chamber, as experienced by Sofya, a Russian doctor in Grossman’s 800 page novel of the Second World War in and around Russia.

I found it moving that he focuses on her eyes, which had allowed her to see and enjoy so much of life and the world – and which in the last moments of her life she considers as being of no further use.

See also Grossman’s description of another character in the book, based on someone’s taking notice of his eyes.

‘Her eyes – which had read Homer, Izvestia, Huckleberry Finn and Mayne Reid, that had looked at good people and bad people, that had seen the geese in the green meadows of Kursk, the stars above the observatory at Pulkovo, the glitter of surgical steel, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, tomatoes and turnips in the bins at market, the blue water of Issyk-Kul – her eyes were no longer of any use to her.  If someone had blinded her, she would have felt no sense of loss.’

Source: Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman; trans. Robert Chandler (New York: New York Review Books, 2006 (1985)), p. 553

Photo credit: Alexas_Fotos at


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