Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Life And Fate

Between 18th and 25th September BBC Radio Four broadcast an adaptation in thirteen episodes of the novel Life And Fate by the Ukrainian Jewish author Vasily Grossman, a work which has been described as a modern-day War And Peace. The adaptation stars, among others, Kenneth Branagh, Greta Scacchi, Janet Suzman and David Tennant

When Life And Fate was completed in 1960, the KGB considered it so dangerous that they confiscated not just all known copies of the manuscript but also the carbon papers Grossman had used to make duplicates, his notebooks and even the typewriter ribbon - just in case. The Politburo's chief of ideology decreed that the book could not safely be published for three hundred years.

Despite the KGB's thoroughness, a few copies of the manuscript escaped their attention. One of these was put on microfilm and smuggled out of the country. It was published in the West in 1980. Sadly, Grossman did not live to see this.

Set against the backdrop of the struggle for Stalingrad during the Second World War, the novel paints an unflinching portrait of the corrosive effect of communism upon individuals and society in general. The German army is laying siege to the city, buildings are in rubble, it's freezing cold, there is hardly any food. Meanwhile the KGB are busy arresting people for chance remarks.

In the face of all this, some characters struggle heroically while others compromise miserably. One party worker, terrified because his four year old child has drawn a pair of ear-rings on a newspaper photograph of Stalin, denounces someone else in his determination to prove himself a good communist.

One of the most affecting episodes in this adaptation is a mere fourteen minutes long. It consists simply of a letter from the mother of one of the characters, written from a ghetto in the Ukraine, now occupied by the Nazis, as she waits to be deported to a death camp.

The dramas all stand alone but together they create a kaleidoscopic portrait of life in Stalin's workers' state and one of the most striking things that emerges is the similarity between communist and fascist ideology.

For the next twenty days you can download all the episodes as podcasts, listen to them at your leisure and be grateful you were born into a free society.

Here's the link.

5 comments:

Josh Lacey said...

Thanks for this - you've inspired me to go and download all the episodes. Josh

Jo Trew said...

Great post. Life and Fate is a really masterful work. I can't wait to see its prequel, For A Just Cause, translated.
I saw Janet Suzman perform The Letter in Oxford a couple of weeks ago and she was extraordinarily moving. Apparently she had been delayed so only arrived at the venue minutes before she was due to perform - she screeched up in her car, leapt out, tiptoed up to the lectern just before her cue, took a deep breath, then utterly devastated everyone in the room with her performance.

Brian Keaney said...

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Joe said...

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Brian Keaney said...

Thanks, Joe