Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 49

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 49
Photo by Alex Boyd / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 3, Chapter 49 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.

With Stalingrad now in the rear-view mirror both figuratively and literally for Novikov’s tank corps, the race is on for the Ukrainian SSR border. 

Its commanding officers, of course, are not among the rushed and weary tankers. Back at headquarters, Novikov spends his time monitoring scout reports while also trying to maintain air support for his troops.

Getmanov and Nyeudobnov have only one concern amid all of this: they “were ready to sell their souls to the devil if only they could be the first to enter the Ukraine, if only the brigades could continue their advance without delay.” (p. 809) Novikov spends no small amount of time sparring with them over whether or not they should allow their troops to sleep before then. 

Although he recognizes that his soldiers are only human, Novikov is still very tempted by the thought of them pushing onward. Commanding the first troops into Ukraine — well, that means glory, awards, a probable promotion to general. This is a striking admission for Novikov, usually the consummate and focused soldier. 

In previous chapters, the narrator repeatedly implies that the Red Army’s victory at Stalingrad shifted the war from an existential one to a “glorious” one. Russian chauvinism is on the rise; Stalin seizes the moment to complete the implementation of State nationalism. 

Given all that context, Getmanov’s attitude probably doesn’t surprise us. His career thrives on riding a good wave. The key thing, though, is that these forces don’t just act on opportunists. Even the most upright soldier, even Novikov, feels the pull of glory. Over and over again, Grossman reminds readers that none of us — no matter how clever or sober-minded we may be — are immune to this.