In the High Peaks

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Book Updates--The Russian Novel & American Wolf

Thank goodness my copy of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman arrived on Saturday! A very long wait from Book Depository, but getting the UK Vintage edition was well worth the time it took. I am into it 75 pages' worth of close reading yesterday late afternoon and this afternoon. I am thoroughly enjoying, including the philosophizing, I must say. I have found Grossman's ruminations about the passages of time, to be particularly engaging. Yet because the book involves characters (part of the time) who are defending Russia during the Battle of Stalingrad, I've found it helpful to see what background or historical sources I can dig up to help me understand what is going on during  this battle. I feel a little lost without them.

Antony Beevor's Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 (1998) is a paperback I picked up at a book sale for 50 cents--quite a neat copy, too. I also have Andrew Roberts's The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011), which offers a more concise description of this pivotal battle and what was at stake. You know, all my life I have avoided books about Stalingrad, mostly because of how long and incredibly complicated a siege it was. But, I will say,even the war parts of this book are not only about Stalingrad.

And furthermore, this book is not all about WAR. It is also the story of an entire family evacuated from Moscow to Kazan, a populous city 460 miles to the east, and the family members' lives once they get there. Very interesting! Like War and Peace, this novel is not solely about war. In fact, even the parts that are set in battle areas deal primarily with soldiers' feelings and thoughts and their relationships with each other rather than military strategies.

And for the audiobook that I borrowed from the library and listened to on long drives, I must report on American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee (2017). This was a fascinating, heart-rending tale of the wildlife biologists championing the lives of wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

To Tackle a Russian or Not? An Epic Novel, That Is

This evening, after two walks in a very icy, wind-driven drizzle at 26 degrees F, I feel empowered.

With Life and Fate by the Russian/Soviet author Vasily Grossman at my left elbow, and a shining votive candle at my right elbow, I am declaring that I am going to start reading this 871-page novel immediately. Maybe lots of us here in "The Northeast Blue Zone," could use a good dose of Russian fatalism right now, and, as I understand it, that's what this novel can provide.

Vasily Grossman was born in 1905 in Berdichev, in the Ukraine, which was a city with one of the largest Jewish communities in eastern Europe (flyleaf). In his younger years Grossman studied chemistry and later he became a mining engineer. Yet somehow he found time at night to write. Grossman was discovered by the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, the founder of socialist realism, who helped promote Grossman's writing. (Gorky was born in 1868 and died in 1936, so that made him 49 years old at the time of the Russian Revolution.)

Grossman was a combat correspondent throughout all of World War II. He saw the worst of it--the German blitzkrieg of 1939-40, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Battle of Berlin in 1945.

He finished Life and Fate in 1960, and when he submitted the manuscript for publication, it was seized by the KGB. Grossman died in 1964, never knowing that more than ten years later, a microfilm copy of his novel would be smuggled out of the Soviet Union and would be published internationally.

The only English translation of Life and Fate is by Robert Chandler,  which was completed in 1979 and published in 1980. His introductory "Translator's Notes" did make me gasp, though inwardly to be sure. I kept reminding myself that he committed the cardinal sins of translation in the late 1970s. A translator wouldn't do what he did now, but things do change from era to era.

Robert Chandler deleted what he described as overly "philosophical" and some unclear passages, amounting to a total of six pages. It was the "philosophical" deletions that got me. So Grossman meandered or waxed philosophically here and there? Just delete it?? Well, how could you? Chandler could have redacted the passages and included them in an appendix of some sort.  It doesn't seem likely that Life and Fate will get another English translation, but maybe someday. I hope so.

In any case, I'm going off to read. I have a library copy, but I'm going to buy one because I think this one will take me a while.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

New Books, April Icicles, & Snow, Snow, Snow

If you wish, do skip the winter weather talk in the first two paragraphs.

Winter is holding on tight--its talons deeply entrenched. We've had really wintry weather--temperatures down to the teens at night and daytime temps in the high 20s. Wild winds as well, causing many to lose power. (We lost power but have a wonderful generator--no complaints.)

Friday night the snow was coming down so hard that I could barely see 20 feet in front of the car, and wouldn't you know, everyone flocked into North Creek to the restaurants, storm or no storm. (Our book group went on as usual.)
This Sunday afternoon we walked, pelleted by graupel, that icy, frozen precipitation that starts in the clouds as snow and is tossed around in the atmosphere until it is deeply frozen, hard, and stark white.
I don't mind any of this. Over the years. time has shown that spring does not arrive until May. The first half of April is nasty, one way or another, and why not have it frozen with snow rather than with heavy rains and mud?

The first meeting of our European Travelers Book Group met to discuss Snow-Blind by the Icelandic author Ragnald Jonasson, a police/mystery procedural that takes place in the northernmost region of Iceland, in Siglufjordur, a town situated on a fjord that has a gigantic mountain overlooking the town. This town is close to the Arctic Circle.

I first learned of Snow-Blind from Cath who keeps the blog readwarbler. I was not disappointed. Everyone in our group enjoyed the novel, especially the atmospheric setting  and the main characters and their relationships. I'm so interested in the young Ari Thor's character, that I can't wait for the second book to appear in the U.S., which is  due to be published in October later this year. Too long to wait! It's interesting that later books in the series have already been published here, but I'd rather read them in order, to see the development of Ari's character, who is a troubled, young soul.

I've almost finished How It All Began by Penelope Lively. I heartily recommend this latest book  of hers, or perhaps her last book, most likely, published in 2011. It is a tour de force about how changes in age and the life cycle affect us all, profoundly. I have loved it. So well done.

I have so many other books that I'm dying to read, and I'm working now. I like working, but I do NOT like NOT having hours and hours to read each week. Phooey!

Books on my Wishlist:
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer  (2018)
The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow  (515 pp.)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Loads of Russian novels.  I will need to list these in another post.
So many books I'm thirsty to read!