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...
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...
Love among the rubble

Love among the rubble

This refers to a love affair that burgeons in the grimness of Stalingrad, and I like how Grossman expands the spectrum to show that love can happen in the worst places, full of ‘noise, stench and rubble’.  The photo by Angela Compagnone seemed the perfect...
Like atoms of radium

Like atoms of radium

A fine metaphor for dots of kindness shining through darkness; Grossman’s hope for the future is largely vested in the fact that the great machinery of totalitarian brutality has failed to extinguish these random sparks of human warmth. ‘Even at the most...
Hunger in the raw

Hunger in the raw

This is one of the most graphic, disturbing descriptions of the effects of severe hunger I have seen, written by a man who witnessed it in extreme situations of war and death camps.  It makes a mockery of the common throw away line of ‘I’m starving...
Dogs of war

Dogs of war

How clever these creatures, able to distinguish between the sound of planes that unleash havoc and so should be hidden from, and those that simply fly over to unleash havoc elsewhere. ‘I don’t know … Take dogs, for example – they can tell different planes apart.  When...
Letters and the lapse of time

Letters and the lapse of time

A moving comment on the effects of time and separation, and the hiatus of news caused by war. Firstly, the sorrow and regret of discovering the death of a loved one after months of silence, only thanks to the efforts of strangers.  Then the question of how many other...
War and letters

War and letters

Letters were a lifeline for people in war, whether fighting it or waiting for someone who was, or simply trying to avoid becoming collateral damage.  So, hard to imagine the communication vacuum this short sentence implies; a population essentially held incommunicado....
The shape of things to come

The shape of things to come

Leigh Fermor’s walk across Europe in the early 1930s captures many things that would be swept away in the following decade by the high tide of Nazism.  His journey took him through Germany and he chronicles the first menacing signals of what was to come, in the...

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