Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 52

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 52
Photo by Chris Curry / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 3, Chapter 52 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 Novikov goes to his unknown fate, Viktor deals with his continuing life. He returns to the institute and practically finds a new world. His colleagues again greet him warmly; he becomes personal friends with leadership; and his stalled staffing issues are quickly resolved. The USSR even grants him a boon most office workers would kill for today: rarely wasting him time in meetings. 

But more than just living adequately, his life has blossomed into a rather luxurious one. He travels to the Urals by private transport. The State makes a car available to chauffeur Lyudmila to the store. He has heart-felt talks with noted Party members in the institute. 

Soviet bureaucracy has caused Viktor no small set of problems. He discovers that this is not its only possible state, thinking: “Whatever serves the principal aims of the State is rushed along at great speed. Bureaucracy can have two opposite effects: it can halt any movement or it can speed it up to an incredible degree – as though freeing it from the constraints of gravity. “

It’s only natural that the Soviet system should offer Viktor such a benefit, considering the importance of his work. Only briefly — among glowing descriptions of his conversations with highly placed people — does he allow the thought that he only enjoys these boons because the State needs his work. 

“Still, Viktor knew very well that, but for Stalin’s telephone call, his research – for all its excellence – would have been forgotten,” the narrator tells us, “and Landesman – for all his talent – would still be unemployed. But then Stalin’s telephone call was no accident; it was no mere whim or caprice. Stalin was the embodiment of the State – and the State has no whim or caprices.”