Edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Lyuba Vinogradova
Compelling analysis and vivid everyday observations are combined in the writings of this much-admired journalist. With over 50 contemporary images.
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the young Ukrainian writer Vasily Grossman was determined to aid the war effort in any way he could. Deemed unfit for military service, Grossman became a special correspondent for the Red Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. His harrowing and unforgettable eyewitness accounts of the terrors of the Eastern Front, writes historian Max Hastings, are ‘a wonderful portrait of the wartime experience of Russia … A worthy memorial to a remarkable man, Beevor and Lyuba Vinogradova have stitched together a compelling narrative from Vasily Grossman’s notebooks, published articles, private letters and other contemporary memoirs. This volume features 56 integrated pictures, including images drawn from Grossman’s own archive and several by the celebrated photojournalist Demitri Baltermants. Deeply sympathetic with the war’s victims as well as its heroes, A Writer at War brims with ‘the finest descriptions ever of what Grossman himself called “the ruthless truth of war”.’
Grossman – whose 1960 novel Life and Fate is widely considered a 20th-century masterpiece – spent nearly 1,000 days at the front, and was present at almost all the major events of the war on the Eastern Front: the battle of Kursk, the largest tank engagement in history, street-fighting in Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, and the atrocities of the Nazi extermination camps. While the Soviet authorities attempted to repress Holocaust reportage, Grossman’s unflinching dedication to the truth shines through in his immensely powerful 1944 report ‘The Hell of Treblinka’, which was used as testimony at the Nuremberg tribunal. As Beevor writes in his introduction, Grossman ‘proved to be the most perceptive and honest eyewitness of the Soviet front lines between 1941 and 1945.’ Grossman’s notes, and his revealing interviews with the soldiers whose trust he won, combine unparalleled analysis of the major battles with poignant evocation of day-to-day life on the front: the smell (‘a cross between a morgue and a blacksmith’s’), the food, the friendships between soldiers, and their intense longing for a return to normality.
Vasily Semyonovich Grossman was born on 12 December 1905 in the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. In 1941, he became a war reporter for the Red Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda, or Red Star, and came to be regarded as a legendary war hero, reporting on the defence of Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin and the consequences of the Holocaust. Life and Fate, which he completed in 1960, was considered such a threat to the totalitarian regime that Grossman was told there was no chance being published for another 200 years. Eventually, however, a copy of the novel was microfilmed and smuggled to the West in 1980. His other major novel, Everything Flows, was published in 1989. Grossman died in Moscow on 14 September 1964, the 23rd anniversary of the massacre of the Jews of Berdichev, in which his mother had been killed.
Antony Beevor is the author of Crete – The Battle and the Resistance (which won the Runciman Prize); Stalingrad (which won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson Prize for History and the Hawthornden Prize for Literature); Berlin – The Downfall, which received the first Longman–History Today Award; and The Battle for Spain, which received the La Vanguardia prize. His next book, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, was awarded the Prix Henry Malherbe in France, and the Westminster Medal from the Royal United Services Institute. His general history The Second World War was published in 2012, becoming another number one international bestseller, and his latest work is Ardennes 1944. His books have appeared in more than 30 languages and have sold just over 6 million copies. A former chairman of the Society of Authors, he has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Kent, Bath, East Anglia and York. He is also a visiting professor at Birkbeck College, University of London and at the University of Kent.
Lyuba Vinogradova, a researcher, translator and freelance journalist, studied biology at university in Moscow, as well as taking degrees in English and German. She received a PhD in microbiology in 2000. Her book on the women fighter and bomber pilots with Red Army Aviation during the Second World War, Defending the Motherland, is due to be published this year in English and other languages. Her next work will be on the women snipers of the Red Army.
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Review by BarbColeman on 6th Aug 2016
"This is an awesome read! How Grossman survived and documented the hair raising horrors of the Eastern Front is a amazing story in itself. I read it through twice straight away and it filled in a lot ..." [read more]