Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 64

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 64, 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.

Today’s chapter epitomizes the sense of freedom that characters feel during the height of wartime. Conversations that are normally carried out in hushed whispers are instead presented in bombastic monologues.

Madyarov, Sokolov’s brother-in-law, boldly declares that “Socialist Realism is the affirmation of the uniqueness and superiority of the State; the decadent movement is the affirmation of the uniqueness and superiority of the individual. The form may be different, but the essence is one and the same — ecstatic wonder at one’s own superiority,” (p. 282). Madyarov’s speech is clearly meant to provoke his listeners with this comparison of two literary genres that are generally regarded as having little in common.

Madyarov, again, expands on his argument by saying that “From Avvakum to Lenin our conception of humanity and freedom has always been partisan and fanatical. It has always mercilessly sacrificed the individual to some abstract idea of humanity,” (p. 283). Once more, one of the vital tensions of the book comes to the fore: what is the value of an individual in relation to a grand idea?