Vasily Grossman: Myths and Counter-Myths

Robert Chandler and Yury Bit-Yunan demythologize the life of Vasily Grossman.

Vasily Grossman: Myths and Counter-Myths

WESTERN READERS HAVE LONG TENDED to divide Soviet writers into two classes: corrupt time-servers and heroic, dissident martyrs. It has been hard for a Soviet writer to attract widespread attention in the English-speaking world except through some major international scandal. Doctor Zhivago became a best seller because the Soviet authorities coerced Boris Pasternak into declining the Nobel Prize. Joseph Brodsky became known after being tried in court and then sent into exile in the Far North. Alexander Solzhenitsyn became ever more famous as the authorities stepped up the pressure against him and eventually deported him in 1974. Great writers with less dramatic biographies have often gone unnoticed. Andrey Platonov, for example, has only very slowly gained Western recognition. And Vasily Grossman was more or less ignored for several decades — until we learned the story of the KGB “arresting” the manuscript of Life and Fate.

In the Soviet Union, needless to say, it was the other way round. To make a career for themselves, Soviet writers did all they could to embellish their proletarian and socialist credentials. Many had much to hide — and sometimes their attempts at camouflage took surprising forms. The highly successful poet and novelist Konstantin Simonov, for example, was the son of a princess and a tsarist officer; apparently he changed his first name from Kirill to Konstantin because he was unable to pronounce the sound “r” without an aristocratic lisp. [1] Vasily Grossman, too, had to keep quiet about some aspects of his background; not only did he have two paternal uncles living abroad, but his father had been a Menshevik — that is, a member of a socialist faction opposed to the Bolsheviks. And Grossman, of course, made much of the fact that Maxim Gorky, then the grand old man of Soviet literature, had encouraged him at the beginning of his career. What was helpful in a Soviet context, however, was far from helpful in a Western context. And so the poet Semyon Lipkin went to great lengths in his memoir of Grossman to downplay the more orthodox aspects of his life and work and to emphasize or exaggerate everything about him that could be made to seem dissident. Since Lipkin is a gifted and engaging writer and Grossman’s life is poorly documented, the myths created by Lipkin have gained wide circulation. [2] But they have outlived their original purpose, which was to draw attention to a great but neglected writer, and it is now time to examine them.

In 1932, Grossman was struggling to publish his first novel, Glück Auf, set in a mining community in the Donbas region of Soviet Ukraine; an editor had told him that some aspects of the novel were “counter-revolutionary.” Gorky was, at the time, the most influential figure in the Soviet literary establishment, and Grossman tried to enlist his support. In his first letter to Gorky, Grossman wrote, “I described what I saw while living and working for three years at mine Smolyanka-11. I wrote the truth. It may be a harsh truth. But the truth can never be counter-revolutionary.” Gorky replied at length, clearly recognizing Grossman’s gifts but criticizing him with regard to his attitude to truth:

It is not enough to say, “I wrote the truth.” The author should ask himself two questions: First, which truth? And second, why? We know that there are two truths and that, in our world, it is the vile and dirty truth of the past that quantitatively preponderates. […] The author truthfully depicts the obtuseness of coal miners, their brawls and drunkenness, all that predominates in his — the author’s — field of vision. This is, of course, truth — but it is a disgusting and tormenting truth. It is a truth we must struggle against and mercilessly extirpate. [3]

There is no doubt that this view of truth was anathema to Grossman. He argues against it both in Stalingrad and in Life and Fate. Unsurprisingly, Lipkin puts great emphasis on Grossman’s disagreement with Gorky, since this fits with the way he wishes to portray Grossman — as a proto-dissident. It is equally unsurprising that Lipkin says little about the central role played by Gorky in orchestrating Grossman’s remarkably successful literary debut, since this would conflict with that image. It is clear, however, that Grossman would not have come to prominence in the mid-1930s without Gorky’s help.

In 1934, heavily edited versions of Glück Auf were published both in the Donbas and in Moscow. Gorky then republished the novel in his almanac The Year XVII. Around the same time, the prestigious journal Literaturnaya Gazeta published Grossman’s short story “In the Town of Berdichev” — despite it being twice their standard length. A well-attended “evening with the critics” was arranged to celebrate this. Lipkin gives the impression that this evening somehow just happened and that the story was greeted with an outburst of spontaneous and unanimous praise — from such diverse writers as Gorky, Boris Pilnyak, Isaac Babel, and Mikhail Bulgakov. Babel apparently said, “Our Yid capital has been seen through new eyes.” And Bulgakov exclaimed, “Don’t say it’s really been possible to publish something worthwhile!” [4]

Even if Lipkin’s record of Babel’s and Bulgakov’s comments is accurate — and there is no evidence for it other than his word — he certainly leaves much unsaid. Gorky was closely connected with Literaturnaya Gazeta and the publication of such a long story, along with the organization of an “evening with the critics,” could not have been arranged without his blessing. [5] And it seems likely that Gorky wanted not only to help Grossman but also to make use of him — to foreground him as an example of the new breed of Soviet writer. [6]

Born in 1905, Grossman belonged to the first generation to have received most of his education under the Soviet regime. He was both a talented writer and a trained scientist. Having worked as a safety engineer in the coal mines of the Donbas, he knew working-class life. He was therefore an ideal figure to exhibit to the world as proof that the Soviet regime was as successful in encouraging the arts as in bringing about social change and industrial development. And this was particularly important in 1934, the year that the Union of Soviet Writers was founded.

Glück Auf was, in any case, published in English translation in the Soviet journal International Literature (no. 6, 1934); “In the Town of Berdichev” was translated into German in 1934 [7], and an English translation was included in the second issue of John Lehmann’s important left-wing journal New Writing (Autumn 1936). Grossman was one of only five Soviet writers included in this journal’s first two issues; among the others were such well-established figures as Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Sholokhov. There can be no doubt that Grossman had powerful official backing — something that Lipkin chose to downplay.


One of the stories most often repeated about Grossman is that Stalin personally, three times, “vetoed” his being awarded a Stalin Prize — for Stepan Kolchugin in 1941, for The People Immortal in 1943, and for For a Just Cause (the novel titled Stalingrad in our recent English translation) in 1953. Stalin, according to both Semyon Lipkin and Ilya Ehrenburg, intervened because he disliked — or even hated — Grossman. A large part of this story, however, is demonstrably false, and it is surprising that it has gone unquestioned for so long. Apart from anything else, what could have made normally timid Soviet literary functionaries keep nominating a writer known to have incurred Stalin’s personal enmity?

The first four sections of Stepan Kolchugin — an epic novel about the revolutionary movement in the Donbas between 1905 and 1917 — were published in the journal Znamya between 1937 and 1940; they were also published as separate volumes. The novel was reviewed widely, and most of the reviews were positive. There were no serious criticisms — and certainly none of an ideological nature; along with Alexey Tolstoy and Mikhail Sholokhov, Grossman was clearly a contender for the role of a “Red Tolstoy.” In the December 1940 issue of the journal Literaturnoe obozrenie, for example, a reviewer referred to Stepan Kolchugin and Sholokhov’s The Quiet Don as the two most important books of the year. [8]

Lipkin seldom names his sources, but he lays claim to an improbable degree of inside knowledge about the workings of the Stalin Prize. In his account of a wartime meeting with Grossman, he writes,

It was known that Stalin had personally deleted Stepan Kolchugin from the list of nominated books unanimously confirmed by the committee. Stalin had called it “a Menshevik novel.” […] During the evening before the list of laureates was published, Grossman received congratulatory phone calls from the country’s most important newspapers.

This may seem credible on first reading, but it is not difficult to see that Lipkin is playing on the reader’s emotions. The words “personally deleted” (samolichno vycherknul) suggest that there was something unusual and extreme about Stalin’s supposed intervention. In reality, however, Stalin quite often took decisions about the various prizes himself — and the Literature Prize was probably the prize he considered most important. [9] The sentence about the “Menshevik novel” is still more questionable; if Stalin was known to have said this, Kolchugin would not have continued to be published in large editions and to be hailed as a Soviet classic. [10] And if Stalin’s words were not common knowledge, how could either Lipkin or Grossman — neither of them close to the inner circles of power — have known of them? Also, Lipkin fails to mention that Grossman faced stiff competition that year. The three novels awarded a Stalin Prize, First Grade, were Alexey Tolstoy’s Peter the First, Mikhail Sholokhov’s The Quiet Don, and Sergey Sergeyev-Tsensky’s Sevastopol Harvest Campaign. The first two have stood the test of time, more so than Kolchugin. 

In any case, it has now been established, from documents declassified in 2006, that Kolchugin was not even nominated for the Stalin Prize; the title does not appear in the list sent to M. B. Khrapchenko, the head of the prize committee, nor did Khrapchenko himself attempt to bring the novel to Stalin’s attention. [11] Also, Grossman wrote regularly to his father throughout these years and kept him well informed about the progress of his literary career. That he never mentions even the least rumor of Kolchugin being nominated makes it seem possible that Lipkin’s account is invention from beginning to end. There are, admittedly, two other memoirs that appear to support Lipkin, but both were written after Lipkin’s memoir and clearly borrow from it.

The memoir by Grossman’s stepson Fyodor Guber, who was then about 10 years old, is a mixture of blurred recollections and paraphrases of Lipkin. [12] The other memoir, by the editor and translator Yevgenia Taratuta, contains more detail. Taratuta relates how Grossman, certain that he would be awarded a prize, invited her and other friends to a celebratory evening at the theater. In the event, she continues, Grossman’s hopes were dashed and he put on a brave face. [13] Unfortunately, the differences between the two published versions of this account make it appear not entirely reliable. In 1987, Taratuta wrote, “People said that [Grossman’s] name had been deleted at the last moment.” [14] In a book published in 2001, however, she repeated Lipkin’s words almost exactly: “People said that Stalin himself had deleted [Grossman’s] name at the last moment.” [15] It appears that she wrote the first version before reading Lipkin’s memoir, which had been published only the preceding year, and that she wrote the second version after reading Lipkin’s memoir, which had by then been republished twice by Moscow presses. [16]

On the other hand, human memory is seldom perfect and it is wrong to dismiss a particular memoir out of hand simply because it contains errors, borrowings, or contradictions. It is entirely possible that Grossman heard false rumors about the prize and that Taratuta’s account of the “celebratory evening” is largely accurate; most “Soviet intelligentsia folklore,” after all, stems from at least some small seed of truth. Two things, however, can be said with certainty: that Stalin did not “personally delete” Kolchugin from a “unanimously agreed” list of prize-winners, and that he did not refer to it as a “Menshevik novel.” The word “Menshevik” was not simply the name of a defeated political faction; by the 1930s, it had become a codeword for something like “Jewish intellectuals opposed to Stalin.” Stalin’s criticism, had he really voiced it, would have been close to a death sentence. And, far from falling into disgrace, Grossman continued to enjoy considerable success. Sovetsky Pisatel, the publishing house associated with the Union of Soviet Writers, republished Kolchugin after the war — with a print run of 75,000 copies and in the prestigious series “Library of Selected Works of Soviet Literature 1917–47.” And in 1951, even though Stalin’s antisemitic campaign was gathering momentum, Sovetsky Pisatel republished the book yet again. On neither occasion were they criticized for this — not even by the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Party Central Committee, an organization usually quick to seize on every opportunity to attack the Union of Soviet Writers.


In 1943, however, Grossman truly did come very close to winning a Stalin Prize. The People Immortal, the short war novel he had published the previous year, was one of six works listed in discussions held by the Prize Committee on March 3 and 4, 1943. The lists compiled on these two days are not identical, but Grossman figures on both, even if not on some later lists. [17] And in an undated letter to Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov, Khrapchenko states that the prize committee has completed its deliberations and voted for prizes to be awarded to four works of prose: Alexey Tolstoy’s The Road to Calvary, Leonid Sobolev’s Soul of the Sea, Vasily Grossman’s The People Immortal, and Pavel Bazhov’s The Malachite Casket. In the event, however, Tolstoy, Bazhov, and Sobolev received prizes, but Grossman did not. The remaining prize went to the Polish Communist Wanda Wasilewska for her novel The Rainbow. Only two people were in a position to effect this late change: Stalin and Molotov. Given that Wasilewska was one of Stalin’s most trusted consultants — and that she was then playing an important role in preparations for the establishment of the postwar Polish government — the initiative may well have been Stalin’s. In any case, there can be no doubt at all that Stalin agreed to it.

Once again, however, this does not indicate that Grossman had in any way fallen from favor. Four separate editions of The People Immortal were published in 1943 [18] and five in 1945 [19]. In 1945 and 1946, three editions of The Years of War, a collection of Grossman’s wartime journalism along with The People Immortal, were published in Moscow, while a fourth was published in Stavropol. And in 1950 a volume of Grossman’s short stories, also including The People Immortal, was published in Moscow. Most of these publications were in large editions, and the top Soviet writers received high royalties; Grossman’s total royalties over this period would have exceeded the 100,000 roubles of a Stalin Prize, First Grade. If not at the very summit of the Soviet literary establishment, Grossman was not far below it.

The novel’s failure to win a Stalin Prize is, in any case, unsurprising. The People Immortal covers the war’s first year, which was a time of retreat. The list of laureates was published on March 19, 1943, six weeks after the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, which is usually seen as the turning point of the war. Though reviewers praised Grossman for his ability to discern in those early defeats the seeds of victories to come, the subject matter of The People Immortal no longer corresponded to the requirements of the Soviet propaganda machine. Victory, not courageous retreat, was now the theme of the day.

Once again, however, we find the writers of memoirs invoking Stalin’s personal hostility toward Grossman. In 1966, Ilya Ehrenburg published the third volume of his influential memoir People, Years, Life. In it he wrote, “The star under which Grossman was born was a star of misfortune. […] I was told that it was Stalin himself who deleted his story The People Immortal from the list of books nominated for the prize.” And he goes on to say that Stalin must have hated Grossman for “his love of Lenin, for his genuine internationalism.” [20]

And in 1980, in a memoir published in Paris, Natalya Roskina, a younger friend of Grossman, both disagreed with Ehrenburg and repeated his central assertion. “It was certainly not love for Lenin,” she writes, “that was the reason for Grossman being constantly in disgrace. It was exclusively the fact that Grossman never sought Stalin’s love.” She continues, “It was Stalin who deleted the novel from the list of laureates.” [21]

Roskina does not say who told her this; it is likely, though, that she has borrowed from Ehrenburg, just as Taratuta borrowed from Lipkin. And this helps us to see that it is Ehrenburg’s memoir that lies at the origin of this myth of Stalin’s personal animosity toward Grossman. Ehrenburg was the first memoirist to claim that Stalin hated Grossman — and he almost certainly did this with the best of motives. By asserting that Grossman loved Lenin and was hated by Stalin, he could have been hoping to pave the way for an eventual Soviet publication of Life and Fate — if only in a bowdlerized version; Ehrenburg was politically shrewd and he rarely acted without some ulterior motive. And in 1986, 20 years after Ehrenburg, Lipkin resuscitated the idea of Stalin’s personal hostility toward Grossman — though in connection with Kolchugin rather than The People Immortal. He too was doing what he could to further Grossman’s reputation. Ehrenburg, however, was trying to salvage Grossman’s standing in the Soviet Union, while Lipkin was trying to promote his reputation abroad. And so, whereas Ehrenburg writes about Grossman’s love of Lenin, Lipkin makes out that Kolchugin was seen as a “Menshevik,” i.e., dissident and anti-Stalinist, novel.


Where Ehrenburg and Lipkin led, Western scholars and journalists were glad to follow. Cold War politics, together with the seductions of the image of the courageous, truth-telling artist, made it almost impossible for them to do otherwise. Almost every episode of Grossman’s life has been distorted one way or another in order to fit the heroic myth conceived by Ehrenburg and Lipkin. A further example of this is the excessive emphasis placed in nearly all articles about Grossman on the attacks to which his play If You Believe the Pythagoreans was subjected in September 1946. [22]

The most important of the criticisms was that the cyclical theory of history propounded by its central character was anti-Marxist. This was at the very beginning of the postwar cultural clampdown enforced by Stalin’s henchman Andrey Zhdanov and there was, at the time, no knowing what these attacks might lead to. In the event, however, they simply faded away. Most Soviet writers — even such important figures as Sholokhov and Alexander Fadeyev (chairman of the Union of Soviet Writers) — were subjected to vicious criticism at one time or another, and there was nothing so very unusual about the criticisms made of this play. This chapter of Grossman’s life deserves mention, but it does not merit the prominence it is usually accorded.

In late 1952 and early 1953, however, Grossman truly was in mortal danger. In October 1952, Stalingrad was nominated for a Stalin Prize by the Presidium of the Union of Soviet Writers. [23] Soon after this, Stalin’s anti-Jewish campaign escalated swiftly, and the novel, rather than being feted, was subjected to vicious attacks. But for Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, Grossman might well have been arrested and shot. Even during those months, however, he can — at least in retrospect — be said to have been fortunate; he was one of only a few writers associated with the wartime Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee who survived. It is curious, incidentally, that such astute figures as Fadeyev and Alexander Tvardovsky (chief editor of the journal Novy Mir) seem to have failed to predict the intensity of the anti-Jewish campaign. They began publishing For a Just Cause during the very month — July 1952 — when most of the leading members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were undergoing secret trial, before being executed in August.

One detail of the complex intrigues around Grossman deserves mention, if only because it provides particularly clear evidence of Lipkin’s witting or unwitting distortions. According to Lipkin, Sholokhov — a great writer, but a notorious reactionary — responded indignantly when Tvardovsky tried to enlist his support for the publication of Stalingrad. Lipkin quotes him as saying, “Whom have you entrusted to write about Stalingrad? Are you in your right mind? I am against this.” [24] Lipkin makes out that it was this gibe — which he understood as antisemitic — that led to the novel’s title being changed, against Grossman’s wishes, from Stalingrad to For a Just Cause. Grossman’s own records, however, contradict this. According to Grossman’s detailed diary about the novel’s journey through the editorial process, Tvardovsky told him that Sholokhov replied as follows, “I shan’t myself be writing about Stalingrad, since it would be unacceptable to write worse than Grossman and I can’t write better.” Sholokhov was not noted for his generosity toward other writers, but on this occasion, at least, he appears to have been both honest and modest. [25]

No one could feel safe in the Stalin era, and there is no reason to think that Grossman was any exception. Nevertheless, it is wrong to make out that he was singled out for special persecution. From his successful debut in 1934 until his death in 1964, he remained a much-published and well-paid writer. Only during Stalin’s last months was he in greater danger than others — and this was because he was a Jew, not because he had incurred Stalin’s personal enmity.


The “arrest” of Life and Fate in February 1961 was, of course, a crushing blow to Grossman. Nevertheless, the often-repeated suggestion that this brought about his death from cancer seems simple-minded. Even the belief that it plunged him into deep depression is questionable. For all Grossman’s trials, the three and a half years from the “arrest” of Life and Fate to his death were a remarkably creative period. As well as his vivid account of his two months in Armenia, he composed the finest of his short stories and around half of Everything Flows, including the trial of the four Judases, the account of the Terror Famine, and the chapters about Lenin and Russian history that constitute one of the greatest passages of historico-political writing in Russian. In a letter to his wife in October 1963, he himself wrote, “I’m in good spirits, and I’m working eagerly. This greatly surprises me — where do these good spirits come from? I feel I should have thrown up my hands in despair long ago, but they keep stupidly reaching out for more work.” [26]

Nor did Grossman — as Lipkin, Roskina, and others assert — become a “non-person,” living out his last years in dire poverty. Another volume of already-published stories came out in 1962 and four new stories appeared in periodicals between June 1962 and September 1964. [27] And For a Just Cause was republished for a sixth time in 1964, this time in a print run of 150,000 copies. For all these, and for his many major publications during the 1950s, he would have been well paid. Afraid that Grossman might somehow manage to get Life and Fate published abroad, the authorities were trying not only to intimidate him and his family, but also to bribe them.


One of the most frequently quoted elements of the heroic myth is that Mikhail Suslov, the chief Kremlin ideologue, told Grossman in June 1962 that there was no question of Life and Fate being published for at least two hundred years. These words are taken to exemplify both the arrogance of the Communist Party bosses and their startling acceptance of the novel’s possible greatness — that it would still be of interest in two hundred years’ time. Suslov, however, prepared for this meeting diligently, and the notes he made beforehand have now been published; [28] they contain no mention of “two hundred years” or anything of the kind. More importantly, Grossman compiled a long and detailed record of the conversation as soon as he returned home; he too makes no mention of Suslov’s assertion. Given Grossman’s phenomenal memory and the evident care with which he recorded this meeting, it seems highly unlikely that Suslov truly said such a thing.

As we have seen, the story of Stalin deleting one of Grossman’s novels from a list of prize-winners was conceived by Ehrenburg and then disseminated by Lipkin. The “two hundred years” story also seems to have developed only gradually; it seems to have been engendered by the writer Boris Yampolsky, to have been helped on its way by Roskina, and then — once again — to have been more widely disseminated by Lipkin.

According to Yampolsky’s 1976 memoir, Grossman did indeed say he was told by Suslov that there was “no question of the novel being published for two to three hundred years.” [29] Roskina, however, tells a very different story; remembering what Grossman told her of a meeting between himself and Tvardovsky, she writes, “As for publication of the novel, Tvardovsky said that this was realistically conceivable only after another two hundred and fifty years.” [30] This, of course — if her record is accurate — would have been said in an entirely different tone; it is not difficult to imagine Tvardovsky saying exactly this as a wry joke. Her account is eminently plausible, but it does not further the heroic myth. And so it is Yampolsky’s version that Lipkin and others followed and that is now quoted in countless articles and reviews, both in Russia and in the West.

It is difficult, unfortunately, to discuss these issues without seeming over-critical of Lipkin and other memoirists. During most of the Soviet period there were, however, no reliable sources of information with regard to anything of even the slightest political sensitivity. For anything they had not witnessed themselves, people were almost entirely dependent on rumor and guess work. In many instances, there is no knowing how much Lipkin and others simply misremembered, how often they consciously chose to distort a story — perhaps for the best of motives — and how often they were accurately recording the “intelligentsia folklore” of the time. Lipkin may even, in at least some instances, have been remembering misleading ideas that emanated from Grossman himself; Grossman’s daughter, for example, remembers her father saying of Stalin, “He doesn’t send me to the camps, nor does he award me prizes.” Julia Volohova, one of the most thoughtful of the younger researchers into Grossman’s work, has suggested, after reading a draft of this article, that it might be better to think of these “myths” about Grossman as having been engendered not by Lipkin or Ehrenburg or any other individual but by the era itself. Fear, rumor, and whispered conversations were, after all, the tissue of everyday Soviet life. She has also suggested that those who survived to write memoirs during the 1970s and 1980s may have felt guilty before those who died before them — and that this may be an additional reason for their feeling the need to make such figures as Grossman into saintly heroes.

Still more important, there is no doubting Vasily Grossman’s astounding integrity and courage. Our hope, in fact, is that this deconstruction of some of the myths that have accrued around him may serve to bring out these qualities still further. Grossman was, for most of his life, in a position of privilege — and it is a great deal easier, as he himself well understood, for an outsider to attack the system that has excluded him than for an insider to attack a system that has brought him comfort and wealth.


Robert Chandler’s translations from Russian include works by Alexander Pushkin, Vasily Grossman, Andrey Platonov, and Teffi. He has also written a short biography of Pushkin and compiled three anthologies for Penguin Classics: of Russian short stories, of Russian magic tales and, with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. His latest translation is Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad (NYRB Classics, 2019).

Yury Bit-Yunan was born in Bryansk, in western Russia. He graduated from the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, and completed his doctorate on the work of Vasily Grossman.


[1] Rodric Braithwaite, Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), p. 33.

[2] Robert Chandler regrets that he has repeated some of them in his notes and introductions to his translations of Grossman.

[3] Quoted in Yury Bit-Yunan and David Feldman, Vasilii Grossman v zerkale literaturnykh intrig (Moscow: Forum, Neolit, 2015), pp. 176–178.

[4] Bulgakov might, of course, have come out with these words even if he had not read the story.

[5] Bit-Yunan and Feldman, p. 190.

[6] Bit-Yunan and Feldman, pp. 198–199.

[7] Bit-Yunan and Feldman, p. 194.

[8] A. I. Roskin, “The Year XXII,” Literaturnoe obozrenie, no. 12 (1940): 16–20.

[9] See Ilya Venyavkin, “Kratkii putevoditel’ po Stalinskoi premii”:

[10] A shortened version of Kolchugin was published in April 1941 by Detgiz, the Soviet publishing house for children’s literature. The fourth part was published in May in the journal Roman-Gazeta in an edition of 300,000 copies, the same as the preceding parts.

[11] RGANI. Fond 3; Opis’ 53; Delo 3; Listy 17–19; 30–40.

[12] Fyodor Guber, Pamiat’ i pis’ma (Moscow: Probel, 2007), p. 36.

[13] Quoted at length by Alexandra Popoff, Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), p. 110.

[14] Yevgenia Taratuta, “Chestnaia zhizn’ i tiazhkaia sud’ba: Vospominania o Vasilii Grossmane,” Ogonyok, no. 40 (1987): 22–23.

[15] Taratuta, Kniga vospominanii, vol. II (Moscow: Yanus-K, 2001), p. 25.

[16] It is hard to be sure of the relationship between Lipkin’s and Taratuta’s memoirs. In 1986, Taratuta published a volume of literary memoirs with no mention of Grossman. This suggests that she wrote her 1987 memoir after reading Lipkin. It is possible, however, that it was more a matter of the changing times — that she felt freer to write about Grossman in 1987 because perestroika was by then in full swing. It is also possible that she had heard about Lipkin’s memoir by 1987 but not had the opportunity to read it. See Bit-Yunan and Feldman, “Stalinskie premii Vasiliia Grossmana” in Voprosy literatury, no. 4 (2013): 186–223.

[17] Committee for Stalin Prizes in the realm of Literature and Art (Moscow: 1939–1956), RGALI, f. 2073, op. 1, ed. khr. 7–8. Also ed. khr. 7, l. 85–87.

[18] In Moscow, Leningrad, Magadan, and Khabarovsk.

[19] In Moscow, Leningrad, Voronezh, Sochi, and Rostov-on-Don.

[20] Ilya Ehrenburg, Liudi, gody, zhizn’, vol. 3 (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1966), pp. 211–212.

[21] Natalya Roskina, Chetyre glavy. Iz literaturnykh vospominanii (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1980), pp. 107–109.

[22] By Johann Altman in Literaturnaya gazeta (September 3) and by Vladimir Yermilov in Pravda (September 4).

[23] Semyon Lipkin, Zhizn’ i sud’ba Vasiliia Grossmana, and Anna Berzer, Proshchanie (Moscow: Kniga, 1990), p. 147. See also: “Diary of the Journey of the Manuscript of the Novel For a Just Cause through Publishing Houses,” RGALI, f. 1710, op. 2, ed. khr. 1, l.25.

[24] Semyon Lipkin, Kvadriga (Moscow: Knizhny Sad, 1997), p. 534.

[25] The fact that Sholokhov was antisemitic and often did come out with vicious abuse made Lipkin’s account seem all the more plausible. Only a few months later, at a meeting of the Union of Soviet Writers in early 1953, Sholokhov was indeed quoted by his friend Mikhail Bubyonnov as saying, “Grossman’s novel is spittle in the face of the Russian people” (see “Diary of the Journey of the Manuscript”, ed. khr. 1).

[26] Guber, Pamiat’ i pis’ma, p. 106.

[27] “The Road,” “The Elk,” “A Few Sad Days,” and “A Young and an Old Woman.”

[28] Suslov’s preparatory notes are item 11 in this exhaustive compilation of material related to the “arrest” of Life and Fate and the Party bosses’ subsequent dealings with Grossman:

[29] Boris Yampolsky, “Posledniaia vstrecha s Vasiliem Grossmanom,” Kontinent, no. 8 (1976), p. 140.

[30] Roskina, Chetyre glavy, p. 114.

LARB Contributors

Robert Chandler’s translations from Russian include works by Alexander Pushkin, Vasily Grossman, Andrey Platonov, and Teffi. He has also written a short biography of Pushkin and compiled three anthologies for Penguin Classics: of Russian short stories, of Russian magic tales, and, with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. His latest translation is Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad (NYRB Classics, 2019).

Yury Bit-Yunan was born in Bryansk, in western Russia. He graduated from the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, and completed his doctorate on the work of Vasily Grossman.


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