Discover a war novel like no other as Stalingrad receives its first ever English translation
Robert Chandler is one of the great translators of our time. Together with his wife Elizabeth he has translated a number of astonishing books by Vasily Grossman, including, most recently, Stalingrad, which reviewers have already compared to War and Peace. Next Thursday at London Review Bookshop I will be talking with Chandler about the extraordinary challenges they faced. For starters, there is no definitive text. Grossman began his first version in 1943 and completed it in 1949. He then partially or completely rewrote Stalingrad at least four times between 1949 and the novel’s first publication in 1952. There were subsequent versions in 1954/5 and 1956, which all differ from each other and differ still more from the various typescripts.
The reason for all these changes is obvious. Grossman was writing at the heyday of Stalinism. We will discuss Grossman’s difficult relations with the regime and what made him such a target for the censors. Stalingrad is a war novel, but it is unlike any other. Grossman sought to tell the truth about a number of things which the Stalinist regime had always lied about – the role of collaborators in the Holocaust, Stalin’s responsibility for the mayhem that followed the Nazi invasion in 1941 and the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
Stalingrad is a deeply political novel, but also curiously old-fashioned. It moves between the war and family life, and depicts a world turned upside down by the Nazi invasion, with families scattered across Russia, desperate to hear news of each other. There is a now a legendary letter from a Jewish mother to her son, which is one of the highlights of Life and Fate. The letter passes hands seven times during Stalingrad but we never read its contents until Life and Fate, the sequel to Stalingrad.
Grossman was one of the first writers to pen both fiction and non-fiction about the Holocaust. Indeed, the fate of his own mother – shot in one of the first great massacres that followed the invasion – haunted the author.
Those attending Thursday's interview will learn more about the significance of Stalingrad as Chandler and I delve into politics, modern literature, the Holocaust and much more surrounding this major novel.
By David Herman
David Herman in Conversation with Robert Chandler takes place Thursday 13 June. 7pm. £10. London Review Bookshop, WC1A 2JL. www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk
Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman will be available to purchase from Tuesday 11 June and you can read our interview with Robert Chandler in the forthcoming July issue of JR.