Stalingrad is a dazzling prequel ... In Stalingrad, Grossman transforms his reportage into a work of lyrical art and fierce power. His descriptions of battle in an industrial age are some of the most vivid ever written – the whoosh of enemy fire, how 'each splinter made its own particular sound' ... Stalingrad’s long non-appearance in English is a mystery. It may have suffered from a lack of interest in Soviet culture. The novel was wrongly estimated on the grounds that anything published under Stalin couldn’t have literary merit. In fact Stalingrad is Life and Fate’s equal. It is, arguably, the richer book – shot through with human stories and a sense of life’s beauty and fragility.
Reading [Stalingrad] is a very eerie experience. It’s like discovering the Bayeux tapestry has a prequel, albeit with marked differences in colours and texture .. Even with the restored passages, it would be impossible to claim this is a subversive or even historically reliable novel. It may not be a 'gelded fictional brontosaurus', as one detractor memorably put it, but much of it is a conventionally Soviet book ... In the end, Stalingrad is a strange and complicated book. It is undoubtedly an amazing achievement of translation and scholarship. It’s lucid and readable, with moments of wonderfully evocative prose. I can’t imagine it will ever feel like an indispensable prelude to Life and Fate, because, as a work of art it’s significantly flawed. These flaws are themselves fascinating. It is an astonishing example of the compromises between creativity and censorship. Observing the negation of Grossman’s art as it tries to burst into flame in spite of the dampening of the censor, you get a deeper appreciation for the empathy, truth and magnanimity of its sequel. Perhaps the most intriguing element of all is the overstory: the way the Grossman of this novel somehow became the dissident author of Life and Fate.
Stalingrad, the first novel in the dilogy, has now finally come down to us, in its first complete English translation, and in a form that Grossman would have been proud of, thanks to the editorial endeavours of his translators Robert and Elizabeth Chandler. Their introduction and detailed notes elaborate the fraught history of the various editions and manuscript and microfilmed sources that have gone to produce this finished book ... It is a prodigious novel ... far more than a fictionalised version of military history ... The Chandlers have done a superb job in rendering Grossman’s Russian prose into a limpid and evocative English ... However, for all their efforts, it is a characteristic of Grossman’s fiction that moments of precise observation such as this often sit with passages of earnest, formulaic exhortations, ramming the message home ... a remarkable and searing act of witness and that testimony was a kind of dry run for the further explorations and the wider ambitions of Life and Fate.
...a stunning translation ... It is a less philosophical, more visceral novel than Life and Fate, with Grossman intent on expressing the underlying solidarity of a 'people’s war' where 'great deeds can be accomplished by simple, ordinary people'. The novel’s sweep is immense, by turns microscopic and panoramic ... it would be wrong to think that Stalingrad is a gloomy novel. It teems with love, devotion and wonderful flashes of humour. Sometimes all three arrive at once ... There are dozens of such moments, but the most indelible passages arrive during the battle itself. The blow-by-blow accounts of young men willing to die to gain enough time for reinforcements to arrive from the east bank of the Volga are positively Homeric.
There are fine descriptions in Stalingrad ... The great writing alternates with passages of bombast and didacticism. Grossman does not capture the brutality inflicted on Soviet soldiers, or the brutality of which they were capable. His censors even struck references to petty thievery, swearing, rotten food, bedbugs – at one stage they removed mention of unwashed hands. Even moments of humour or farce were slashed for undermining the heroic tone. Yet Grossman struggled with ingenuity and tenacity for the partial truth Stalingrad contains. He pushed boundaries at great personal risk, and was sometimes successful. There is much in Stalingrad that is categorically not the official line. Stalingrad is a magnificent but mutilated achievement. Any simple response to it is bound to be wrong. Anything that can be asserted about it needs to be contradicted. As soon as it is examined as a narrative, we are forced to delve into the story of its tortured composition.
Popoff tells Grossman’s story with sensitivity and a keen understanding of his world, drawing on little-known archival collections to produce what must be considered the definitive biography. Throughout she highlights Grossman’s resistance to the twin totalitarian evils of his time—Nazism and Stalinism—and the defense of human freedom that animates all his writing ... Although Grossman’s epic can’t match the artistry of Tolstoy, Stalingrad is a profoundly moving homage to the millions of victims of the last century.
For this translation, as forceful, sensitive and richly coloured as that of Life and Fate, Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have woven the strongest unpublished material into the 1956 version. The result is another huge, seething fresco of front-line combat, domestic routine under siege, and restless debate. Again, Grossman transforms into art 'all the savage grief and homeless happiness of those terrible years' ... The battle scenes...have all the mesmeric thrill and dread that admirers will recall from Life and Fate. The lyricism, tenderness and pathos of the moments of respite touch the same heights ... There are, though, differences between the two masterworks. Unlike Life and Fate, written after Stalin’s death in the hope of greater freedom, Grossman drafted parts of the earlier book under duress. Some chapters of heroic labour in the fields or mines echo Socialist Realist doctrine. A very few pages parrot the sloganeering uplift of party orthodoxy ... few works of literature since Homer can match the piercing, unshakably humane gaze that Grossman turns on the haggard face of war
Grossman’s characters also embody this strange wartime synthesis: some are terrified while others sit calmly in their fired-upon barges and boats, making plans to read the day’s paper ... also includes, as the Chandlers often emphasize, 'several hundred of the vivid, comic, and surprising passages' that were published in only some of the Russian editions, and passages that were never published ... even Grossman’s worst-tempered characters are afforded moments of insight and clarity—and, Elizabeth says, 'unlike nearly all his Soviet contemporaries, he treats even his German characters with respect.'
... a masterpiece of intertwined plots that cascade together in a long sequence of militaristic horror ... A spectacular afterword details the extent of censorship the text suffered under Stalin. As a stand-alone novel, this is both gripping and enlightening, a tour de force. When considered as a whole with Life and Fate, this diptych is one of the landmark accomplishments of 20th-century literature.