Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 35

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 35, 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.

From the evacuees of Kazan, we shift west towards the battlefront to meet with Lieutenant Viktorov, a pilot awaiting orders. With none to be found, this carryover character from Stalingrad goes for a walk by the nearby forest where a curious struggle plays out. 

Breathing in the sweet smell of birch and bark, of rot and growth, Viktorov is reminded of an older, imagined era. A more fantastical time, where even gray-bearded elders are young’uns compared to the worldliness of the modern, hotshot pilot. What can a merchant tell a man who has seen the world grow small from a cockpit? What can a village deacon preach to a man who can end a dozen lives with the pull of a trigger? 

The Volga itself, this powerful vein of the region, seems symbolic of this now powerless past. 

Yet for all his bravado — for all the bravery of a man who has already faced death and won — drawing deeper into the forest upsets him. The smells are different, the light is different: “The forest had its own life; it was as though he were entering an unfamiliar house where everything was different from the outside.” (p. 159)