Wasps quick-bending

Wasps quick-bending

One of the many stretch metaphors used by Homer. When you see a comma followed by ‘as …’ it can be a signal to take a good intake of breath to carry you through to the end of the image. Here it is feisty bees and quick-bending wasps who convey the...
Dark-named destiny

Dark-named destiny

Another term for death, the fate of Asios who, horse-proud, insisted on driving his chariot into the fray where he met a Trojan spear. See also the bestellar reviews, complete with rich quote-mosaics, of Adam Nicolson’s magnificent Why Homer Matters, and...
Nestor berates the Greeks

Nestor berates the Greeks

Old Nestor has a few choice words to say to his fellow Greeks for their unwillingness to take on the Trojan hero Hector. He compares their cowardice to his own ‘hard-enduring heart’ which fuelled his courage in his youth.See also the bestellar reviews,...
Can’t bear the noise

Can’t bear the noise

I don’t blame them either. A delightful recollection of a sensible ursine response to the outrage of war in their habitat. See another lovely account from the same book, of monster lobsters.”Last year, when the hard fighting was going on up there” he...
Here comes Hera

Here comes Hera

One goddess you should never cross, quick to rouse to wrath and terrible in her exactions. Divinely, drop-dead gorgeous, of course.There are several heart- prefixed triologisms in Homer, emphasizing the human pain, terror and sorrow of war and hostility; see, for...
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...
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...

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