The prequel to Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, the War and Peace of the 20th Century, now in English for the first time. Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate has been hailed as a twentieth-century War and Peace. However, Life and Fate is only the second half of a two-part work, the first half of which was published in 1952. Grossman wanted to call this earlier work Stalingrad—as it will be in this first English translation—but it was published as For a Just Cause. The characters in both novels are largely the same and so is the story line; Life and Fate picks up where Stalingrad ends, in late September 1942. The first novel is in no way inferior to Life and Fate; the chapters about the Shaposhnikov family are both tender and witty, and the battle scenes are vivid and moving. One of the most memorable chapters of Life and Fate is the last letter written from a Jewish ghetto by Viktor Shtrum's mother—a powerful lament for East European Jewry. The words of this letter do not appear in Stalingrad, yet the letter's presence makes itself powerfully felt and it is mentioned many times. We learn who carries it across the front lines, who passes it on to whom, and how it eventually reaches Viktor. Grossman describes the difficulty Viktor experiences in reading it and his inability to talk about it even to his family. The absence of the letter itself is eloquent—as if its contents are too awful for anyone to take in.
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The Battle of Stalingrad was the largest confrontation of World War II, in which Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in Southern Russia. Marked by fierce close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians in air raids, it was the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare.