Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 16

This post, covering Part 2, Chapter 16 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.

As the pressure ratchets up for the Wehrmacht in Stalingrad, so too is the case for the Red Army units that remain in their way. We return to house 6/1, now under seemingly continuous mortar fire.

Under this metal rain, interpersonal pressures have also gained steam. It is obvious to Katya — as well as everyone else — how strongly Grekov is pursuing her; she finds him frightening. Seryozha, trained for mortars, has been ordered to join an infantry attack; he’s afraid he will not survive. 

Amid all of that, the cat is killed during bombardment. Down to two working legs, it drags itself over to Katya before collapsing. She remains in the cellar as the combat upstairs reaches a fever pitch, only her and her short-lived cat’s corpse. There is nothing for her to turn to, except her thoughts. 

The possibility of death is close. Its proximity appears to bring a clarifying effect to her thoughts. The memory of a “particularly unpleasant” conversation bubbles up, of a lieutenant-colonel who tried to extract sex from her in exchange for staying on the safer, left bank. (p. 413).