Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 30

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 30
Photo by Brandi Redd / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 30, 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.

And so the hospital commissar, Battalion Commissar Shimansky is summoned to do his duty; he tells Lyudmilla Nikolaevna that staff did everything they could to save her son’s life, that Tolya had been exceptional, that she should be proud of raising such a young man. 

 What more could a parent with a dead child ask to hear? After this explanation, bordering on the rote, Lyudmilla gives Shimansky several requests — and then, “Her large, light blue eyes suddenly met his own. He blinked involuntarily at their brilliance.” (p. 147)

Shimansky’s explanation to Lyudmilla reads as a report to a superior, modified with a modicum of bedside manner. In a succinct manner it hits all the important details, provides the necessary qualifiers, then wraps up with a patriotic affirmation. And yet it covers a human core, a sense of sadness warped into anger because “[w]hat would happen to his nerves if he had to give interviews to every dead lieutenant’s mama?” (p. 147)