How to strangle an author

How to strangle an author

The life and fate of Grossman’s manuscript hung in the balance after being arrested by the authorities.  He never knew if it would see the light of day, and he had to wait years for publication.  It is to this he refers in saying he’d been strangled in a...
An ocean bed of learning

An ocean bed of learning

These two intellectuals find common ground in more than the fact of loving the same woman. Despite this rivalry, they jointly haul up treasure chests of buried culture from the depths and vastnesses of their minds. For a metaphor based on ocean beds, see also:...
How to win a train ticket to Tashkent

How to win a train ticket to Tashkent

This vast novel, full of war and suffering, also has moments of levity.  Here we have someone refusing to curtail his right to say whatever he thinks about literature, life and politics, talking and arguing his way into being given a free train ticket. ‘In 1926...
In praise of senseless, eternal kindness

In praise of senseless, eternal kindness

Another plea by Grossman for uncomplicated, unplanned and even unwitnessed kindnesses, as opposed to those commandeered by ideologies. Whatever your beliefs, may you give and receive such random acts of kindness in equal measure. ‘The private kindness of one...
Of eyes that saw too much

Of eyes that saw too much

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,...
Captain Grekov’s eyes

Captain Grekov’s eyes

This is a memorable description of Captain Grekov, commander of House 6/1 in the rubble of Stalingrad, summing up so much of the man by the look in his eyes. See also in the same book a touching account of the eyes of a woman – with much of what they had seen in...
The kernel of human kindness

The kernel of human kindness

Having been caught between the colliding tectonic plates of two totalitarian systems, it is easy to see how Grossman saw history not in terms of a matched battle between good and evil, but of a juggernaut trying to mow down seedlings of kindness. Despite – or...
Kindness maketh man

Kindness maketh man

What makes us human?  Simple kindness is a key element according to Grossman.  It depends partly on how you define ‘human’ of course, whether to describe a particular species, or in the sense that is redolent with tenderness, vulnerability, feeling,...
An anatomy of anguish

An anatomy of anguish

This graphic and heart-rending typology of despair makes me conscious of having been mercifully spared much of anything that could be likened to despair.  Count your blessings, indeed. ‘Abarchuk sighed.  ‘You know what, someone ought to write a treatise on...

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