by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler
Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece Life and Fate is one of our most recommended books, especially popular with historians. It remained unpublished at the time of his death in 1964, but went on to attract enormous acclaim—and has been described more than once as “the War and Peace of the 20th century.” Stalingrad is its precursor. Initially published in the 1950s under the Russian title ‘For a Just Cause’, it has now been translated for the first time into English by Elizabeth and Robert Chandler, as well as being significantly reworked to reinsert text from earlier manuscripts that were censored during the Soviet era.
Equal to Life and Fate in its size and epic scope, the publication of Stalingrad is—as Marcel Theroux has remarked —“like discovering the Bayeux tapestry has a prequel.”
As in Life and Fate, the best moments of Stalingrad are rendered with a depth and vividness that persuade you that they might have been moments from your own life… If the novel doesn’t quite touch the unbearable heights of Life and Fate, there are heart-rending moments of loss and separation.
In a fascinating foreword Robert Chandler explains that for many years he was put off the idea of reading Stalingrad. He had been led to believe by “eminent figures” that it was a lesser work than Life and Fate, which he first translated into English in 1985 — and then updated, together with his wife, in 2006… At nearly 1,000 pages Stalingrad is slightly longer than its sequel. It is a less philosophical, more visceral novel than Life and Fate.