In alphabetical order of authors, I am posting the details every day, over twelve days, of the top 12 out of last year’s reading. Today we have reached #7 and it is a big book, so much so that in a short blog there is no point in trying to summarise the story.. As ever, last year was one of delightful discoveries and occasional disappointments. My reading included a couple of books from the dim and distant past as well as several hot off the press. Please comment and offer your own best reads of the year.
Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman. The translator of this substantial book, Robert Chandler, relates how Tolstoy’s War and Peace was the only book that Grossman felt able to read during the long and brutal siege of Stalingrad and clearly the author’s choice of a similar form of title is not a coincidence.
This is a book where the publishing story is almost as exciting as the book itself. It almost never appeared in print, and its author did not live to see its current success. The BBC cleared every slot of its drama schedule for a whole week in 2012 to broadcast a massive adaptation of the novel but unless one happened to be a bedridden insomniac it was impossible to follow in that medium.
Life and Fate and its panoramic account of the seige of Stalingrad is not a book to come at without some preparation and I recommend the article by Chandler in Prospect magazine as a start but one needs to read the novel’s introduction in the Vintage Classics edition too. Once that’s done, read through, and keep your bookmark in the long list of characters at the back of the book so as to refresh your memory of who’s who as you follow the story. Finally, like the BBC, clear your diary and set to. If you have a large hole in next year’s reading plan, this can magnificently fill it for you. Verdict 7.5 out of 10
Look out for the eighth book tomorrow. Happy reading!