Grossman’s novel deals with a man who returns to ‘normal’ life after 30 years in the gulag. Here he shows the extent to which words have consequences. Words, spoken or written in this or that form of denunciation, translate into horrific suffering and death. I found it powerful how the start of the chain sounds so innocuous, just people chatting over tea, and then someone quietly writing a report in ‘cosy lamplight’.
But look where it leads, where it ends. And note how Grossman wraps up his thought … ‘In the beginning was the word’. Indeed.
At one end of the chain were two people at a table, drinking cups of tea and chatting. Next, in cosy lamplight, someone cultured and educated composed a report; or perhaps an activist gave a frank and straightforward speech at a meeting of the collective farm. At the other end of the chain were crazed eyes; damaged kidneys; a skull pierced by a bullet; gangrenous, pus-oozing toes gnawed by the frost of the taiga; scurvy-ridden corpses in a log hut that served as the camp morgue.
In the beginning was the word … That is truly so.
Source: Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Anna Aslanyan (London: Vintage Books, 2011), p. 61
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