"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Vasily Grossman

One of the real surprises in MacIntyre's 2016 book Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, which I discussed at length here, is his series of potted biographies in the latter part of the book of a very diverse cast of characters, only half of whom I had any familiarity with. Among those who were new to me was Vasily Grossman, whom MacIntyre "displays" as a moral exemplar of a very particular type in a very singular context when one's capacity for acting as a free and virtuous agent was (to put it mildly) severely under duress.

It is with great interest, then, that I greet the publication of a new biography about Grossman, of whom I am keen to learn more. Just published six weeks ago is Alexandra Popoff, Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century (Yale University Press, 2019), 424pp.

Modestly introduced by the publisher as "The definitive biography of Soviet Jewish dissident writer Vasily Grossman," Yale UP goes on to tell us this about the book:
If Vasily Grossman’s 1961 masterpiece, Life and Fate, had been published during his lifetime, it would have reached the world together with Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and before Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag. But Life and Fate was seized by the KGB. When it emerged posthumously, decades later, it was recognized as the War and Peace of the twentieth century. Always at the epicenter of events, Grossman (1905–1964) was among the first to describe the Holocaust and the Ukrainian famine. His 1944 article “The Hell of Treblinka” became evidence at Nuremberg. Grossman’s powerful anti‑totalitarian works liken the Nazis’ crimes against humanity with those of Stalin. His compassionate prose has the everlasting quality of great art. Because Grossman’s major works appeared after much delay we are only now able to examine them properly. Alexandra Popoff’s authoritative biography illuminates Grossman’s life and legacy.

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