Vasily Grossman wrote three novels about the Second World War, each offering a distinct take on what a war novel can be, and each extraordinary. Set during the catastrophic first months of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, The People Immortal is the tale of an army battalion dispatched to slow the advancing enemy at any cost, with encirclement and annihilation its promised end.
There is a good deal of vivid action writing ... Grossman humanises his tale with occasional comic touches ... The book contains a lot of dialogue alternately boosterish...as well as sentimental filler ... Sometimes Grossman doesn’t even bother to put the propaganda into the mouths of characters, but delivers it directly ... This new translation restores many of his lines that the Soviet authorities removed from The People Immortal. Mostly the cuts make sense...but it’s surprising to see some of the lines Grossman was allowed to keep ... Indeed, this might be appropriate for a book that at times – depending on your appetite for discussions on military tactics and Soviet cheerleading – is more interesting to read about than to read.
Grossman’s descriptions are unsparing ... This is Grossman’s genius. In a few lines he can evoke a whole life ... The People Immortal is shorter than Grossman’s more famous novels and not as dark and complex ... His account of the German invasion of a Soviet village is extraordinary, the best chapter in the novel ... It is an indispensable companion piece to his other works, casting a new light on the complexities of Grossman’s career. But, above all, it reminds us of the horrors of war and why Grossman was one of the greatest chroniclers of the Second World War in all its inhumanity.
This was Grossman’s first novel and the style he chose was the acceptable realism of the time ... Grossman never forgets the uplifting importance of 'the people’s land' and the hardship of war is frequently contrasted with lyrical descriptions of the natural world ... Allowing for the overstated nobility of the characters and their implicit allegiance to the political system for which they were fighting, this is an absorbing book, without the scope and critiques of Grossman’s Life and Fate but with all of its humanity and discernment.