Life and Fate cover
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Publication date:
May 16, 2006
NYRB Classics
Available as E-Book, International Literature

A book judged so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only the manuscript but the ribbons on which it had been typed were confiscated by the state, Life and Fate is an epic tale of World War II and a profound reckoning with the dark forces that dominated the twentieth century. Interweaving a transfixing account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia, Vasily Grossman fashions an immense, intricately detailed tapestry depicting a time of almost unimaginable horror and even stranger hope. Life and Fate juxtaposes bedrooms and snipers’ nests, scientific laboratories and the Gulag, taking us deep into the hearts and minds of characters ranging from a boy on his way to the gas chambers to Hitler and Stalin themselves. This novel of unsparing realism and visionary moral intensity is one of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.


Vasily Grossman’s novel ostensibly concerns World War II, which he covered as a Soviet war correspondent. But his true subject is the power of kindness—random, banal or heroic—to counter the numbing dehumanization of totalitarianism….By the novel’s end, both communism and fascism are reduced to ephemera; instinctive kindness, whatever the consequences, is what makes us human.
— Linda Grant, The Wall Street Journal blog

Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR.
—Martin Amis

A chronicle of the past century’s two evil engines of destruction—Soviet communism and German fascism—the novel is dark yet earns its right to depression. But it depresses in the way that all genuinely great art does—through an unflinching view of the truth, which includes all the awfulness of which human beings are capable and also the splendor to which in crises they can attain. A great book, a masterpiece, Life and Fate is a book only a Russian could write.
— Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal

World War II’s War and Peace. Written (mainly) from the vantage point of a Soviet Jew, this masterpiece was judged far too ambivalent in its treatment of the “Great Patriotic War” to be published in the author’s lifetime. —Niall Ferguson, War: A Reader’s Guide, The New York Times

…a classic of 20th century Russian literature.
The New York Times

Read it, and rejoice that the 20th century has produced so thoughtful and so profound a literary humanist. The sufferings and self-revelations of these characters provide us with some of the most troubling and occasionally uplifting examinations of the human heart to be found in contemporary literature. A novel for all time.
Washington Post Book World

Takes its place beside The First Circle and Doctor Zhivago as a masterful evocation of the fate of Russia as it is expressed through the lives of its people.
USA Today

Grossman’s epic novel…draws uncomfortable parallels between Nazi and Soviet power, a politically potent theme.
— Bill Keller, The New York Times

1 on Antony Beevor’s “Five Best of World War II Fiction” list

The Wall Street Journal