Vasily Grossman, the Great Forgotten Soviet Jewish Literary Genius of Exile and Betrayal, Lives Inside Us All

Tell me to close my eyes, change the author’s name and all the place names, read slowly aloud the first page, and I will still know right away that Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows is Russian. It has that dynamic, shifting prose, incisive attention to detail and gesture, as if the busywork of our hands says more about us than anything else; gutting portrait-work that latches onto a character’s least-attractive qualities before softening them with something warm. It folds back an observation onto itself, then does it again, then a third time, as if some greater mystery can be found in a man repetitively rubbing his knees on a train. It even does that funny little thing where every character has two different names that seem totally unrelated. In this case, the novel begins as Ivan Grigoryevich’s train pulls into Moscow, delivering him back home from the Soviet prison camps where he has spent the last 30 years. Ivan is greeted by a cousin who got fat and advanced his own scientific career by denouncing other scientists as enemies of the state, and who still resents Ivan for petty things that happened 30 years earlier. He also learns that his […]

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