Tuesday, August 11, 2009

vasily grossman

i just finished a book called "A Writer at War," featuring the war time notebooks of Soviet writer Grossman. it offered vivid snippets of grossman's experience of the front during world war II. the snippets were contextualized by the editors, who explained where he was and what he was doing when he wrote his notes.

his notebook was like an artist's sketchbook. he was constantly describing people met along the road -- generals and peasants, soldiers and secretaries. i recall his description of village women running to german trenches after the germans retreated to take back all the quilts and pillows the germans seized.

i recall villagers' descriptions of germans breaking into peasant households in the dead of winter, shivering violently, shouting at the residents to hurry and build up the fire.

i recall the way soviet troops propped up frozen german corpses for a joke; troops surrounding a german soldier and shouting for him to surrender only to find he was a corpse.

i recall his 1941 description -- that year being the year germany attacked, driving back soviet forces all along the front -- of german fighter planes at night appearing like "lice darting among the stars."

he tried to capture the special ways of talking and acting of various specialized soldiers, from fighter pilots to tank men (or "tankists").

he was always attuned to the natural beauty of the world, and how oddly it contrasted with the death and destruction being wrought. he noticed how people laughed and played even in horrific circumstances: the wounded german soldier and the young woman sitting on a bench after the fall of berlin, embracing for several hours.

he wrote heartbreakingly about treblinka, where almost a million people, mostly jews, were killed.

No comments: