Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 20

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 20
Photo by Nihal Karkala / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 20, is part of The Slavic Literature Pod’s chapter a day read along of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Learn more about our project here.

At last, Lyudmila’s long-awaited letter arrives. Finally she has news of her first-born son Tolya, who is now recovering from a chest wound. Her relief is overwhelming. She shares this fact with her husband who doesn’t seem to fully understand the import of the news, but does his best for her anyway. 

As the couple walk down Kazan’s streets and try to figure out what to do next, a memory comes to them. They had once had a cat who had struggled to birth her kittens. “As she was dying,” the narrator informs us, “she had crawled to Viktor and cried, staring at him with wide, bright eyes. But who was there in this vast empty sky, on this pitiless, dusty earth – who was there to beg or entreat?” (p. 98)

On one level, this story serves to illustrate the horror of loss and unknowns. We might speak of loss in war, but how can we truly speak of it without truly knowing it? Either you are familiar with this pain or you are not. But Grossman still tries to explain the feeling to the latter group. After all, what can be more horrifying than seeing a creature — a creature who trusts you above all else — suffering in a way you are entirely able to prevent?