Life and destiny

Life and Fate (in Russian : Жизнь и судьба,  romanization : Zhizn i Sudba ) is a novel written in the year 1959 by Vasili Grossman , and is considered the masterpiece of its author. Technically, “Life and destiny” is the second half of the book in two parts conceived by the author with the same title, but while the first half (the novel For a just cause ), written during Stalin’s ruleand published for the first time In 1952,expressescomplete loyalty to the regime, Life and destiny directly criticizes Stalinism and questions the life regime of the Soviet citizens under the communist regime.

The novel also refrains from glorifying the Soviet system, unlike other literary works published in the USSR based on World War II , and on the contrary emphasizes the individual vicissitudes of common subjects (both Soviet and some German) involved in the drama Of war instead of highlighting the “mass” as the key protagonist (unlike the canons of socialist realism ).

Due to its great extension, dozens of characters, complexity of human plots, and its realistic historical frame in a war of great dimensions, this work has been compared with War and peace of Leo Tolstoy ; The French daily Le Monde has described it as “the greatest Russian novel of the 20th century .” 1 or “War and peace of the twentieth century”. 2

History of the manuscript

After Grossman presented the manuscript for publication in Znamya magazine , the KGB stormed his apartment. Manuscripts, carbon copies, notebooks, typewritten copies, and even typewriter tapes were confiscated. 3 Since the time of jruschoviano thaw post-Stalinist, Grossman wrote to Nikita Khrushchev :

I ask you to return the freedom to my book, I ask that my book be discussed with editors, not with KGB agents. What sense does it make that I am physically free when the book to which I have dedicated my life is arrested? … I do not renounce it … I ask for freedom for my book.

Soviet soldiers waiting for the German attack, in Stalingrad , scenario of much of the novel.

On July 23, 1962, the ideological leader of the Politburo Mikhail Sushlov told the writer that if published, the book would do more harm to the Soviet Union than Doctor Zhivago de Pasternak . Súslov literally notified Grossman that ” his novel could not be published in at least two hundred years .” The commentary highlights both the censor’s presumption about the profound message of the text and the recognition of the durability of the literary value of the work. Grossman died in 1964, not knowing if his novel would ever be read by the public.
The novel was published in 1980 in Switzerland with the help of Soviet dissidents: Andrei Sakharov secretly photographed draft pages preserved by Semyon Lipkin, and Vladimir Voinovich managed to smuggle abroad photographic films. When Mikhail Gorbachev initiated his policy of glásnost , the novel was finally published in Russian territory in 1988 in the magazine Oktyabr and in book form. Some critics compare Grossman’s war novel with Leon Tolstoy ‘s monumental prose . 4

Plot and characters

The novel in the background tells the story of the Sháposhnikov family and the battle of Stalingrad . In the first place are the sisters Liudmila and Yevguenia (Zhenia) Sháposhnikova . The first had a first marriage to Abarchuk, arrested in 1937 , a character who appears in the Russian labor camp. That first marriage a son, Anatoli Shaposhnikov (Tolia) has lieutenant of the army who died in a hospital of Saratov as a result of wounds suffered in campaign.

Liudmila has a second husband, Victor Shtrum , physical , and a daughter, Nadezhda (Nadia). As a result of the war, the family has moved from Moscow to Kazan . Much of the narrative centers on Shtrum, a theoretical physicist (Grossman’s transcript ), a Jewish intellectual fascinated by relativity and quantum physics , who embodies “the perplexity of an age before its own achievements and its inability to dominate them.” 5 Victor’s mother, Anna (Ania) Semyonovna , is a doctor who is in Ukraine when the German army invades him. He loses his job and has to go to the ghetto . It is exterminated by the Nazis. Another group of attention are the colleagues of Víctor, among them the theoretical physicist Sokolov and his wife, Maria, of whom Shtrum falls in love. While in Kazan, Victor meets with historian Madiárov, the engineer chemical Artélev and translator Tatar Karimov. The resistance in Stalingrad allows the displaced to Kazán to return to Moscow , developing a subplot on Shtrum, its work, its fall in disgrace and its signature of a document that incriminates to innocents and denies the truth. 5

The other sister, Yevgenia (Zhenia) Sháposhnikova , was married to Nikolai Krímov, and has a relationship with Colonel Piotr Nóvikov, commanding officer of the tank body . Yevgeny is in Kibibishev , where the government has temporarily moved as a result of the war; Try again and again to obtain a residence permit. 5 The novel recounts Krímov’s performance as political commissar in Stalingrad , including his activity in house 6 / I, where a group of soldiers stands heroically. Krímov, convinced communist, is, nevertheless, arrested and tortured in the Lubianka , without apparent reason. Yevguenia goes to visit him to the jail , putting an end to his relationship with Novikov. Through Nemovkov, the commissary of his tank body, Dementi Guétmanov and his party comrades of Ufa , is known, and the siege of the Red Army on the German army of Paulus in Stalingrad is told , showing the history of A group of German soldiers, the surrender of these, and the advance of the Russian tanks towards Ukraine .

A third sister Sháposhnikova, Marusia , dies during the war victim of the bombings . He has a husband, Stepán Spiridónov, who resists in the power station of Stalingrado, with their daughter, Vera. This one has a loving relation with the pilot Víktorov, through which the action of a squadron of fighters of the air force is known . Viktorov ends up dying in combat. Vera gives birth on a barge to their son.

A fourth brother, Dmitri (Mitia) Sháposhnikov , is being held in a camp as a political prisoner . His son Seriozha appears as a soldier assigned to the front, in the 6 / I house of Stalingrad.

Not directly linked to the Shaposhnikov family are the related events taking place in a German concentration camp, where an old appear, among others, Bolshevik ( Mostovskoy ) and a Menshevik exile (Chernetsov) together with a German commander intended to camp, Major Liss ; Also describes a Ukrainian hut, a group of Jews on the way to the gas chamber telling here the history of the military doctor Sofia Levinton and the orphaned child named David ; the story of a man also appears sonderkommando of the SS in the steppe Kalmyk . This multitude of subplots and locations thus includes events in a German labor camp, a group of Jews on their way to the German extermination camp, high hierarchies and individual fighting units both in the city of Stalingrad and those involved in the counter-offensive Operation Uranus , events at the Stalingrad power station, displaced scientists from Moscow and their return to the capital and prisoners of the MGB in various locations. There are isolated historical figures such as Hitler , Stalin , Friedrich Paulus and Soviet army officers in Stalingrad, such as General Yeriomenko , a symbol of the military effort “committed to victory, with no political ambition or moral insensibility.” 5


It is an extensive novel (1,104 pages in its Spanish edition of 2007). It is divided into three parts, in turn subdivided into chapters: 74, 64 and 63. It is written in a style of socialist realism .
Life and destiny is a novel with multiple facets, being one of his ideas that the Great Patriotic War was the struggle between two similar totalitarian states . The tragedy of ordinary people is that they have to fight both against the invaders and the totalitarianism of their own state. National socialism and communism were the same concept. 5

In one scene, the Sturmbannführer Liss tells the old Bolshevik Mostovskói, interned in a German concentration camp , that Stalin and Hitler are the leaders of a qualitatively new formation:

When we look at each other, we not only see a face we hate, we contemplate a mirror. That is the tragedy of our age. Do not you recognize yourself, your will, in us? 6

Grossman describes the type of communist party officials who blindly follow the party line and form the basis for an oppressive regime. One of those political workers (политработник), Sagaidak, responsible for the propaganda section of the Ukrainian Central Committee, wrote that entire families and peoples let themselves die of starvation during collectivization in the USSR :

… the famine in the period of total collectivization was due to the fact that the kuláks buried the grain, did not eat bread purposely and swelled; Even entire peoples, including children and the elderly, died, for the sole purpose of harming the Soviet state . 7

Editions in Spain

  • Life and destiny , translated by Rosa María Bassols of the French, Barcelona. Editorial Seix Barral, SA 1985. ISBN 84-322-0529-X
  • Life and destiny , translated by Marta-Ingrid Rebón Rodríguez from Russian, Barcelona. Círculo de Lectores, SA, 2007. ISBN 84-672-2719-2 / Galaxia Gutenberg; Círculo de Lectores, SA, 2007. ISBN 84-8109-703-9 .

TV Series

In 2012 a series of Russian TV called Life and destiny , based on the novel was released . It was transmitted by Rossiya channel 1 .


  1. Back to top↑ [1]
  2. Back to top↑ «Life and destiny» .
  3. Back to top↑ “The book that the KGB could not erase”
  4. Back to top↑ Tolstoy Studies Journal : Ellis, Frank. Concepts of War in LN Tolstoy and VS Grossman. Vol. II, 1989, pp. 101-108
  5. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e Life and destiny in the
  6. Back to top↑ Life and destiny , Gutemberg Galaxy, 2007, pp. 501-502
  7. Back to top↑ Life and destiny , pp. 129-130.