Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 29

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 29, 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.

After following Lyudmila’s journey through its intended destination, we jump back in time to Tolya’s arrival in Saratov. Faced with this badly-wounded young soldier, the doctors ultimately decide on an unusual procedure — known only to them via medical literature — that lasts for over five hours. 

And despite moments of doubt, Tolya pulls through the operation. He’s put in the care of Sister Terentyevna and seems to be on the mend, even waking briefly to ask for water. 

Then Terentyevna steps out to take a call from a doctor. When she returns, she sees that a strange peacefulness has come over Tolya. Staring at him, she notices that “his thin cheeks, his pale, swollen lips, his high unwrinkled forehead seemed not those of an adult, or even an adolescent, but those of a child,” (p.145).

Tolya has died. And in Terentyevna’s initial reaction, we find an easy-to-overlook part of war: armies bleed their nations of their young. This is not the only thing they bleed their nations of; but this is the greatest loss. It is the greatest because this loss is literally incalculable. Who might they have been? What might they have done?