Yet, in some way, great books wait for you, biding their time until the moment you are ready for them. And when I finally took up Grossman, late last year, I knew that I needed to commit a couple of weeks to finally climbing this literary mountain. It took a good deal longer.
Anyhow, I come down from the mountain with the unoriginal but urgent recommendation to every other reader that it is one very worth climbing. Though Grossman’s journalism (including his unforgettable first-hand account of the discovery of Treblinka) is a good place to start, Life and Fate is a narrative without equal. It is the story of the midnight of the 20th century. Rotating between the atrocities in the Nazi camps and the atrocities in the Soviet Gulag system, in the midst of all this, is the centrepiece standoff of the battle for Stalingrad: the axis on which the course of the world would turn.
In the autumn of 2018, I expressed an aspiration to “find myself up to my eyeballs in Shakespeare and Russian novelists by the new year.” Well, I was only off by a year, but as this new year completes its first month, I have already read four Shakespeare plays, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, and now, following Murray’s recommendation, I’ve borrowed a copy of Life and Fate from the library, which I started reading last night. Unfortunately, I am no more wise or profound for the experience so far, but only foolish people expect miracles.