Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 60

This post, covering Part 2, Chapter 60 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.

There are many ways a hero can fall.

Many of them fall by dying. In fact, this is often preferred: it allows the public at large to invoke the hero’s name as often as they want for whatever purpose suits them. A dead hero is good because they can’t contradict you. 

The problem with a living hero is this: not only are they still a person with thoughts and feelings, they are also liable to fall by simply losing face. Given the fickle nature of public opinion, the possibility of losing face can be a challenging one indeed. 

There is no longer any reason for Spiridonov to stay at the power station. Bombers have reduced it to rubble; he has already allowed the workers to try and save their lives by fleeing. Yet he hears no word from Moscow. 

In one small detail, the narrator conveys to us how much Spiridonov has been reduced by the terror of being a hero: “After the raid, Spiridonov’s hands had begun to tremble convulsively … His hands only stopped trembling when he drank vodka.” (p. 601) 

That’s the other great thing about a dead hero — they’re invincible. They may be dead, but death is glorious. An ex-solider or a civilian-hero who drinks to stop physical trembling, whose habits may become additions, and whose addictions may ruin their life? That’s horribly human. The public is less inclined to raise these people up as heroes.