When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, Vasily Grossman became a special correspondent for the Red Star, the Soviet Army's newspaper, and reported from the frontlines of the war. A Writer at War depicts in vivid detail the crushing conditions on the Eastern Front, and the lives and deaths of soldiers and civilians alike. Witnessing some of the most savage fighting of the war, Grossman saw firsthand the repeated early defeats of the Red Army, the brutal street fighting in Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk (the largest tank engagement in history), the defense of Moscow, the battles in Ukraine, the atrocities at Treblinka, and much more.
Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova have taken Grossman's raw notebooks, and fashioned them into a gripping narrative providing one of the most even-handed descriptions --at once unflinching and sensitive -- we have ever had of what Grossman called "the ruthless truth of war."
Soviet author Grossman volunteered for the army when the Germans invaded in 1941 and spent more than three years as a special correspondent at the front for the army newspaper Red Star. His wartime writing established him as a major "voice" of war--a status resembling in many ways that of Ernie Pyle in America. This volume, a perfect complement to the panoramic vision of Ivan's War, collects excerpts from Grossman's notebooks and published dispatches, few of them longer than a couple of paragraphs. And while the dispatches usually describe scenes fitting with Soviet orthodoxy, Grossman's notebooks also record the bloody-mindedness, the despair and the disaffection that permeated Soviet ranks as the Red Army paid its dues of learning how to fight a modern war. That material, of course, was not published at the time. Grossman was a perceptive observer with an eye for essential detail. His vignettes of the fighting at Kursk and the battles that brought the Red Army into Berlin are models of combat reporting, and the elegiac realism of his description of Treblinka merits wide anthologizing in Holocaust literature. This volume stands among the finest eyewitness accounts of Soviet Russia's war on the Eastern Front. (Jan. 10)
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Showing 1-2 of the 2 most recent reviews
1 . Compelling, Informative, Real
Posted March 17, 2010 by James , Los AngelesFascinating read that gets to the heart of the Soviet mind-set pre-, during- and post WWII. Exquisite writing that captures the political reality through the small details of the unfortunate individuals, families, and countries caught up in a horiffic situation.
2 . A gut wretching view of the horrors of war
Posted February 02, 2010 by Steve Howard , S St Paul,MNVasily Grossman writes about war for what it is. He saw the pain and suffering
in the people and common foot soldier . He wrote about the evil committed by both the Germans and the Russians. Parts of the book were so graphic that it was hard to read without being horrified at what man is capable of. He states in his book that if you think this is hard to read, imagined how hard it was for him to witness it and write about it.
Vasily Grossman was a Hero to this world. He was not afraid to write the truth.
This is a book that will stay in my thoughts for a long time. I salute you Vasily.
March 11, 2007
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Excerpt from A Writer at War by Vasily Grossman
Baptism of Fire
Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union began in the early hours of 22 June 1941. Stalin, refusing to believe that he could be tricked, had rejected more than eighty warnings. Although the Soviet dictator did not collapse until later, he was so disorientated on discovering the truth that the announcement on the wireless at midday was made by his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, in a wooden voice. The people of the Soviet Union proved rather more robust than their leaders. They queued to volunteer for the front.
Vasily Grossman, bespectacled, overweight and leaning on a walking stick, was dejected when the recruiting station turned him down. He should not have been surprised, considering his unimpressive physical state. Grossman was only in his mid-thirties, yet the girls in the next-door apartment called him `uncle'.
Over the next few weeks he tried to get any form of employment he could which was connected with the war. The Soviet authorities, meanwhile, gave little accurate information on what was happening at the front. Nothing was said of the German forces, more than three million strong, dividing the Red Army with armoured thrusts, then capturing hundreds of thousands of prisoners in encirclements. Only the names of towns mentioned in official bulletins revealed how rapidly the enemy was advancing.
Grossman had put off urging his mother to abandon the town of Berdichev in the Ukraine. His second wife, Olga Mikhailovna Guber, convinced him that they had no room for her. Then, before Grossman realised fully what was happening, the German Sixth Army seized Berdichev on 7 July. The enemy had advanced over 350 kilometres in just over two weeks. Grossman's failure to save his mother burdened him for the rest of his life, even after he discovered that she had refused to leave because there was nobody else to look after a niece. Grossman was also extremely concerned about the fate of Ekaterina, or Katya, his daughter by his first wife. He did not know that she had been sent away from Berdichev for the summer.
Desperate to be of some help to the war effort, Grossman badgered the Main Political Department of the Red Army, known by the acronym GLAVPUR, even though he was not a member of the Communist Party. His future editor, David Ortenberg, a commissar with the rank of general, recounted later how he came to work for Krasnaya Zvezda, the newspaper of the Soviet armed forces which was far more attentively read during the war than any other paper.
I remember how Grossman turned up for the first time at the editorial office. This was in late July. I had dropped in at the Main Political Department and heard that Vasily Grossman had been asking them to send him to the front. All that I knew about this writer was that he had written the novel Stepan Kolchugin about the Donbass.
`Vasily Grossman?' I said. `I've never met him, but I know Stepan Kolchugin. Please send him to Krasnaya Zvezda.'
`Yes, but he has never served in the army. He knows nothing about it. Would he fit in at Krasnaya Zvezda?'
`That's all right,' I said, trying to persuade them. `He knows about people's souls.'
I did not leave them in peace until the People's Commissar signed the order to conscript Vasily Grossman into the Red Army and appoint him to our newspaper. There was one problem. He was given the rank of private, or, as Ilya Ehrenburg liked to joke about both himself and Grossman, `untrained private'. It was impossible to give him an officer's rank or that of a commissar because he was not a Party member. It was equally impossible to make him wear a private's uniform, as he would have had to spend half his time saluting his seniors. All that we could do was to give him the rank of quartermaster. Some of our writers, such as Lev Slavin, Boris Lapin and even, for some time, Konstantin Simonov, were in the same situation. Their green tabs used to cause them a lot of trouble, as the same tabs were worn by medics, and they were always being mistaken for them. Anyway, on 28 July 1941 I signed the order: `Quartermaster of the second rank Vasily Grossman is appointed a special correspondent of Krasnaya Zvezda with a salary of 1,200 roubles per month.'
The next day Grossman reported at the editorial office. He told me that although this appointment was unexpected, he was happy about it. He returned a few days later fully equipped and in an officer's uniform. [His tunic was all wrinkled, his spectacles kept sliding down his nose, and his pistol hung on his unfastened belt like an axe.]