Classics- art, music, opera, books

LIFE AND FATE by Vasiliy Grossman

This modern Russian classic is a huge tome of over 350,000 words and 100 characters. Some critics compare it to War and Peace saying that it is the best novel of the Soviet era.

During The Second World War, Grossman, a journalist, was at the front from the Russian collapse when the German invaded, reported the battle of Stalingrad, and was present at the liberation of Treblinka. He saw first hand the similarities of bureaucratic dictatorship where the entire State is bent to the will of one individual, be it Hitler or Stalin. This novel is based around the trials and tribulations of ordinary people whose lives change back and forth according to the petty (or even vindictive) whims of the Communist Party. Freedom of thought and deed was a rare commodity under Stalin and Hitler where idealists face the  dilemma of supporting the Party’s aims, whilst disagreeing with some of its methods

As Grossman writes ‘Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness.’ Seeing the choices that his characters face would you be any different under the circumstances? This novel shows us how the Soviet system affected the way everyone in Russia thought and is relevant now to understand the current regime in Russia and how it has support from the peace loving population.

 Significantly, of all the secret police in the Eastern Bloc only the KGB survived  (becoming the FSB) and provided their leaders Andropov and Putin to run the country. My novel Russian Resolution tackles the theme of KGB mind control of an entire country’s population.


Repin's Cossacks

click to enlarge

The Zaporozhian Cossacks writing a letter to the Sultan of Turkey by Ilya Repin

This is my favourite painting, which hangs in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. It is an important clue in my novel Russian Resolution (out end July).

In 1675, despite the Cossacks having just defeated Turkish troops, the Sultan of Turkey sent an arrogant letter to them saying as ‘… brother of the sun and moon, grandson and viceroy of god… never defeated…’ I demanded you submit.’

The picture shows the Cossacks composing a reply of more than twenty profanities describing the Sultan such as ‘…the devils brother….secretary of Lucifer…Armenian pig…the crick in our dick…screw your mother…kiss our arse.’


  1. jakekilgour says:

    My favourite opera is Eugene Onegin. I first saw it in Kharkov in the seventies on a trip from Moscow. Back then I identified with Onegin. Now I see myself more as the elderly Count Gremin, who’s aria moves me to tears.

    Turning the table on the opera a little, Jake the hero in my novel spurns Tanya’s (named after Tatiana in the opera) advances and only expresses his feeling in later life. Will the novel have a tragic ending like the opera?

  2. Awais Khan says:

    My favorite Russian novel would undoubtedly be Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. What a passionate, tragic tale of love and loss. I doubt any writer today could recreate the magic of Tolstoy. I was surprised with the elaborate descriptions, the poignant dialogue, the sweeping emotions. The wonderful characters of Anna, Karenin, Kitty, Levin and Vronsky leave an indelible mark on the reader.

    Anna Karenina remains my favorite book in Russian literature, with the possible exception of ‘The Idiot’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

    • jakekilgour says:

      I agree it’s a great novel. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do it justice and Keira Knightley as Anna didn’t work for me.

      When Jake, the hero in my novel, first sees Tanya he gives her the nickname Anna Karenina, I hope this gives readers a mental picture even if it is of Keira.

  3. Kirsten says:

    The Master and Margarita! I love the magical feel to it, it’s so full of rich imagery.

    • jakekilgour says:

      That’s a difficult one for me, because yes I like the imagery and the surrealism, but it isn’t a page turner. I don’t feel I care about how it ends. Nevertheless it’s a modern classic so I’m going to finish it.

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