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Just as War and Peace is the great epic about Napoleon's invasion of Russia, so Grossman's two long novels - Stalingrad and Life and Fate - are the great epic about Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union.

For over two years Hitler had seemed all-powerful. At remarkably little cost, he had conquered all of Western and Central Europe and vast swathes of Russia and Ukraine. The Battle of Stalingrad was his first major defeat, destroying the myth that he was invincible. The German Sixth Army about 265,000 men was encircled and crushed. This was the turning point of World War Two.

Until recently, only Life and Fate, the second of Grossman's two Stalingrad novels has been available in English. It is as if we had only the second half of War and Peace and did not even know that the first half existed.

Quotation

In the interests of Soviet orthodoxy, Grossman's editors made him omit many of his wittiest and most unexpected insights.

Grossman was an official war correspondent, and he spent longer in besieged Stalingrad than any other Soviet journalist. He had a unique gift for winning the trust of both senior officers and rank-and-file soldiers. They talked freely to him and he vividly conveys their experience.

Grossman witnessed many terrible things. Nevertheless, he remains one of the most human and humane of writers. His novels are lit by brilliant flashes of humour and he shows love and understanding towards almost all his characters, Russians and Germans alike.

Astonishingly, there is still no adequate Russian edition of the novel. In the interests of Soviet orthodoxy, Grossman's editors made him omit many of his wittiest and most unexpected insights. This edition includes several hundred passages from Grossman's typescripts never before published in any language. Editing this novel has been a complex task which is one of the reasons why readers have had to wait so long for an English translation.

Among the passages edited out from published editions of Stalingrad are mentions of lice and fleas, accounts of sexual infidelity, and a sweet, charming moment when a gifted and heroic officer remembers how he used to enjoy making dresses for his wife. Evidently, this was considered unmanly on his part, or undignified: 'I can still remember measuring my Tamara. I couldn't stop laughing. And she was stroking my hands and saying, "Golden heart and golden hands!"'

  • Stalingrad

  • THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
    ‘You will not only discover that you love his characters and want to stay with them – that you need them in your life as much as you need your own family and loved ones – but that at the end, despite having finished an 892-page novel, you will want to read it again’ Daily Telegraph

    'One of the great novels of the 20th century, and now published in English for the first time' Observer

    In April 1942, Hitler and Mussolini plan the huge offensive on the Eastern Front that will culminate in the greatest battle in human history.

    Hundreds of miles away, Pyotr Vavilov receives his call-up papers and spends a final night with his wife and children in the hut that is his home. As war approaches, the Shaposhnikov family gathers for a meal: despite her age, Alexandra will soon become a refugee; Tolya will enlist in the reserves; Vera, a nurse, will fall in love with a wounded pilot; and Viktor Shtrum will receive a letter from his doomed mother which will haunt him forever.

    The war will consume the lives of a huge cast of characters – lives which express Grossman’s grand themes of the nation and the individual, nature’s beauty and war’s cruelty, love and separation.

    For months, Soviet forces are driven back inexorably by the German advance eastward and eventually Stalingrad is all that remains between the invaders and victory. The city stands on a cliff-top by the Volga river. The battle for Stalingrad – a maelstrom of violence and firepower – will reduce it to ruins. But it will also be the cradle of a new sense of hope.

    Stalingrad is a magnificent novel not only of war but of all human life: its subjects are mothers and daughters, husbands and brothers, generals, nurses, political officers, steelworkers, tractor girls. It is tender, epic, and a testament to the power of the human spirit.

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