Life and Fate (ii)

So, having muttered a bit about the book and the man, I can now turn my attention to events in Oxford last weekend. Last Friday (9th September) there was a ‘mini Grossman festival’ run by Radio 4 in St Peter’s College. It involved four events, the first being a discussion by the people behind the Radio 4 drama, which was chaired by Bridget Kendall. This was followed by a panel with Robert Chandler, Grossman’s translator, Lyuba Vinogradova, who worked on A Writer at War with Anthony Beevor, and Carol and John Garrard, Grossman’s biographers; it was chaired by Mark Damazer, the former controller of Radio 4 who is now the Master of St Peter’s.

Then there was lunch, and then Start the Week presented by Andrew Marr with Anthony Beevor, Andrei Kurkov and Linda Grant, both novelists. This was followed by a five o’clock talk chaired by Bridget Kendall again, with Linda Grant and Francis Spufford and ending in an incredibly moving reading of ‘The Letter’ from Life and Fate, performed by Janet Suzman. In the background to these events was an exhibition from the Study Centre Vasily Grossman, a private research organisation based in Turin of all slightly incongruous places. (You can ‘like’ them on Facebook, a page that is quite lively at the minute.)

Sarah J. Young has written a good summing up of the day which I agree with, so I won’t try to reiterate the same points here. But I will add, firstly, that I enjoyed the last event of the day almost as much as the first one. It had an air of an AA meeting about it that I rather liked. People were standing up and saying how they came to the book and what a powerful effect it had on them when they read it. Bearing in mind that this was the weekend of September 11th, I was struck by a slight parallel between these statements and the way people want to talk about where they were on that day. Reading Life and Fate seems also to be a deeply impressive, life-altering event, although obviously the context and scale are completely different.

Secondly, it surprised and irritated me how few people spoke about the fact that Life and Fate is a sequel. It’s worth emphasising the existence of For A Just Cause (login required with the link) as it explains a lot about the beginning of Life and Fate and also about why Grossman had hopes of getting it published: the previous volume made it into print, albeit after a shocking struggle.

For a Just Cause hasn’t been translated by Robert Chandler, though he said that he was due to begin working on it. I can’t wait to read it. (Cough cough, hint, HINT…) Everyone agrees that it is not as good as Life and Fate, marred by extremely boring passages of military strategy and what have you, but even so: Tolya’s alive! You find out how Yevgenia Nikolaevna met Novikov! You see Stalingrad before it was invaded (briefly)!

Yes. A good event, overall, and brilliant to see so much time and energy focused on Grossman. It was very interesting to hear about the process of adapting the book for the radio, and the excerpts we heard sounded promising – I’m looking forward to next week, when the drama will be aired.

There will be more to come on this subject, I’m afraid.


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