Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 54

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 54
Photo by Trey Gibson / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 3, Chapter 54 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 was a man — a Soviet citizen, celebrated for his achievements — who was summoned into a Party meeting under false pretenses. He believed he was there to talk about something related to his work. Upon arrival, though, he learned that a letter had been drafted for him; he only needed to sign it. It was nothing major, simply a denunciation of men arrested as part of an assassination. And, to his lasting shame, he puts his name on it. 

We are talking, of course, about Vasily Grossman. In 1953, he signed a letter calling for harsh punishment of the men arrested as part of the so-called Doctor’s Plot (an NKVD-crafted ploy to implicate innocent Jewish doctors in a fake assassination attempt on Stalin). The letter was never published. He would, however, relitigate the experience with Viktor Shtrum in Life and Fate

This chapter focuses on how coercion could work in the Soviet Union: Viktor has already experienced the stick, and now he finds himself tempted by the carrot. He signs the letter not under duress (per se, anyhow), but rather under the fear of disappointing his new friends, of losing his charmed life. 

It is easy to imagine the coercion of the Soviet Union under the 1984 model of fear and ignorance. So much of Life and Fate, though, is dedicated to exploring the nuances of this coercion. If you really pay attention to these themes in earnest, you realize this: these methods are by no means unique to the USSR. This is one of the reasons the novel remains so compelling — seeing these many forms of coercion in action may inspire us to ask how we are similarly coerced in our own lives.