Thursday, January 31, 2013

The new theory unbound

There was just one thing he didn't understand. Mixed with his joy and his feeling of triumph was a sad-ness that seemed to well up from somewhere deep underground, a sense of regret for something sacred and cherished that seemed to be slipping away from him. For some reason he felt guilty, but he had no idea what of or before whom. 

He sat there, eating his favourite buckwheat and potato soup and remembering a spring night in Kiev when he was a child; he had watched the stars looking down at him between the chestnut blossoms and wept.

The world had seemed splendid then, the future quite vast, full of goodness and radiant light. Today his fate had been decided. It was as though he were saying goodbye to that pure, childish, almost religious love of science and its magic, saying goodbye to what he had felt .. as he overcame his terror and refused to lie to himself.

There was only one person he could have talked to about all this ..

Vasily Grossman
Life and Fate

Vasily Grossman, born in the Ukraine in 1905, died broken by the worst that his century had to offer, in 1964. A professional writer, he was denied publication of most of his work, and subjected to unimaginable coercion to distort everything he set eyes on. That we know him as one of the noblest lights of the literature in his adopted language, Russian, was not merely a matter of time, but of the rawest courage and good luck of protective friends, including the humanist-physicist, Sakharov. The extracts of the last three entries are from the core of a miracle of literary witness, and are framed by inhuman warfare, inhuman repression, and every knowable suffering short of not dining at Taillevent. His ‘relevance’ speaks for itself. He is incorrigibly youthful, naïve and sage, yet not incorruptible. 

We believe in the friendship of the arts because of where they come from. In this last passage, the problem of vanity and its vulner-abilities enters one of its serial climaxes, as Viktor has just received the fragile equivalent of an annunciation, in a telephone call from Stalin. Associates are being shredded in the Lubyanka as they speak, fates are being flicked off the sleeve by absolute chance, every form of fidelity is being tested and the great crush of terror is omnipresent. Neither Dostoevsky nor Tolstoy has sal-vaged from such settings any greater proof of kindness.

The publisher of Vasily Grossman in English is celebrating 50 years of its own life on the birthday of my brother next week. The New York Review of Books is incorrigibly youthful, a friend in the arts. 

Vasily Grossman
A Writer at War
  A Soviet Journalist
  with the Red Army, 
Anthony Beevor, editor
  and translator, with
  Luba Vinogradova
Random House, 2005©

Catherine Merridale
Ivan's War
  Life and Death in the
  Red Army, 1939-1945
Henry Holt, 2006©

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