Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 43

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 43, 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, Sofya Osipovna Levinton — a doctor and friend of the Shaposhnikova family — re-enters the story. Another character drawn from Stalingrad, Levinton has previously only been mentioned briefly in Mostovskoy’s recollection of their arrest by German soldiers. 

We have spoken previously about how Grossman writes about the emergence of Jewish identity; here we find that theme at its most dire, with Levinton — and many other Jewish people — being transported to an unclear destination. She’s struck by a sense of disorientation, not only because of the shock of the experience itself, but also by hearing people speaking in Yiddish again. It’s a language she has not heard since childhood. 

It’s worth noting that when Levinton thinks of the shtetl, an Eastern European Yiddish term for a small, primarily Jewish town, she is mostly thinking of such places prior to the revolution. The end of Imperial Russia, and correspondingly the end of the Pale of Settlement, mean that those around her are have had opportunities unavailable before and are “workers from different co-operatives, girls at training college, teachers from a school for trade unionists; there was a radio technician, an engineer who worked at a canned food factory…” and so on. (p. 197)

The revolution has since changed much for them (though Levinton wonders if this also bears out at a more fundamental level), but still their fate is once again tied to their Jewishness: “Changed, or unchanged, the world of the shtetl was poised on the brink of the abyss.” (p. 197). All at once, the world forces their Jewish identity to the fore.