The public library I use just got in a big shipment of books–some of which are one’s I’ve requested. So I’ve had to take a break from House of Leaves, so that I can get A Writer at War read during the two weeks I have it.
It’s kind of a radical change to go from experimental fiction to a war diary. But I’m enjoying it a lot–I’m enjoying it so much that my engrossment in this book got commented on last night when I went out to eat by the host. 🙂
A Writer at War is basically the notebooks that Vasily Grossman kept while he was a war correspondent with Krasnaya Zvezda, the Red Army newspaper, with occasional comments from the editors to help explain the army slang and Russian culture. Grossman was with the Red Army from about a year before Stalingrad to 1945, when the army rolled into Berlin.
I knew a little about Eastern Front from my history classes, but as I read Grossman’s notebooks I feel like I’m learning even more about what happened. Not only do you get an overview of what’s going on on the entire front, but you also get vignettes and stories from the soldiers. Grossman also provides commentary about what he thinks about the war. And, even though it was very dangerous for him to do so, he was honest about what happened. (During the Russian retreats, Stalin and the Party didn’t want people to write or even talk about what was really happening. Grossman quoted one of the newspapers to demonstate this point: “The much-battered enemy continued his cowardly advance” (11). If Grossman’s notebooks had been found and read by the wrong people, he might have faced a visit from the NKVD.)
The best thing about reading Grossman’s notebooks is that I feel like I’m getting the information straight from Grossman–it’s not filtered or censored.