Pass notes, No 3,046: Life and Fate

Age: Completed in 1960 and published in 1980. So either 51 or 31.

  1. Life And Fate

  2. by

    Vasily Grossman, Robert Chandler

  3. Buy it from the Guardian bookshop
  1. Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book

Appearance: War and Peace II. (Tag-line: This time it’s mostly war.)

I’m guessing it’s a book about war? War and so much more. Life and Fate is the 900-page masterpiece of Russian journalist and author Vasily Grossman, which, thanks to Soviet censorship, nearly never saw the light of day.

What happened? Luckily for us, a dissident friend of the author smuggled a copy out of the Soviet Union on microfilm and, more luckily still, around 30 years later, the then controller of Radio 4 Mark Damazer read the English translation, fell in love with it, and commissioned a 13-episode adaptation.

Which begins this week? Begins and ends. Radio 4 has made this Life and Fate week, and dedicated all its drama output for eight days to adapted excerpts from the novel, with a cast including Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant and John Sessions.

And what’s it about? Oh, you know, people and stuff.

People and stuff? I mean obviously I’ve not read it.

Right, so what do you know about it? Well, apparently Branagh plays the main character Viktor Shtrum, a Jewish physicist evacuated from Moscow in 1942, and Tennant plays Nikolai Krymov, Shtrum’s wife’s sister’s former lover, now a Commissar at the battle for Stalingrad, and Sessions plays real life war criminal Adolf Eichmann as he inspects a Polish concentration camp, and Kenneth Cranham plays Stepan Spiridonov who works at the power station in Stalingrad but quits to go and look after his grand-daughter on a barge. So that’s the gist.

Do these characters meet at all? No idea. The producer has said a copy of the family tree is more or less vital for anyone who wants to have a clue what’s going on.

Not exactly something light to dip into after Woman’s Hour then. Not exactly, no.

Do say: “Of course I’ve read it, who hasn’t?”

Don’t say: “I’ll wait for the HBO version.”

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