Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 7

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 7
Photo by Dmitry Ant / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 7, 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 lingering in the Nazi prison camps, our view is shifted toward Battlefront Stalingrad. We open on General Vasily Chuykov and his staff, cut off from their troops and going stir crazy as they invent ways to pass the time. 

Two important terms to note here: the left and right banks, in reference to the Volga. At this point, German forces have taken most of the city and remaining Red Army troops are fighting with their backs to the river. The right (or west) bank is where the fighting troops are; the left (or east) bank is where commanders, artillery, etc. are positioned. Crossing the river is extremely dangerous. 

Here the narrator poses to us the curiously casual ways war coexists with “normal” life. We can see that in the banter between Chuykov and his staff, alternating between telling jokes and expressing their anxieties. But it comes on more strongly as dusk falls and as the German air-raids stop for the night. 

Under the dark, a form of life returns to these embattled men and women. It’s a time to send messages, to make repairs, to finally report to their superiors. “And,” the narrator tells us, “the dead were buried – to spend the first night of their eternal rest beside the dug-outs and trenches where their comrades were writing letters, shaving, eating bread, drinking tea and washing in improvised baths.” (p.37)