Books

Adam Kirsch CliffsNotes: Life And Fate

We try and boil down a 2000+ word essay by the prominent literary critic into around 200 or less. Read More

By / November 30, 2011
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Welcome to the first installment of Adam Kirsch CliffsNotes, where we try and boil down a 2000+ word essay by the prominent literary critic into around 200 or less.  This week Kirsch took on Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate at Tablet, and Jared Bloom was forced to confess because of it .

Published in the Soviet Union in 1988—nearly 30 years after Vasily Grossman finished his manuscript—Life and Fate is a sprawling, 800-page masterpiece of historical fiction that traces the lives of dozens of characters whose lives are uprooted following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1942. Or so I’ve been led to believe—I’ve never read it. I say this in the interest of full disclosure because I just read Adam Kirsch’s Tablet piece on the novel Life and Fate, which is considered to be a classic in the genre.

I have never seen Schindler’s List, The Pianist, or Life is Beautiful. I have also never read Sophie’s Choice, The Book Thief, or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. And, if I’m being completely honest, I probably never will.

For Kirsch, though, the power of Life and Fate is not in its vivid descriptions of suffering—although the book does include these, as well—but rather in what the experience of Soviet Jews says about totalitarianism, the human spirit, and what people are capable of doing to one another.  And I’d like to read that.