BBC Radio 4 is currently broadcasting a wonderful dramatization of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, an epic novel about World War II’s Battle of Stalingrad starring Kenneth Branagh, Greta Scacchi and Janet Suzman.
Completed in 1960, the KGB had the book itself arrested because it was at odds with the way Stalin wanted the war to be remembered. Grossman’s portrayal of soldiers and civilians didn’t jibe with official Soviet ideology and wasn’t published until it was smuggled out to the West in 1985. Now it is considered to be one of the most important Russian novels of the last century and many compare it to War and Peace. His daughter said of him “Many people lost their belief in human beings. He never did.”
Russian novels and films that portray the Great Patriotic War (that’s what the Russian people call WWII) present a perspective unfamiliar to many of us.
Living and the Dead by Simonov, written after Stalin’s death, freed the author to question military decisions and mishaps that caused enormous suffering and perhaps could have been avoided. Mirroring real life during the war, the fates of many of the characters remain unknown at the end of the novel.
Forever Nineteen by Baklanov is the story of a young Red Army artillery soldier on the Ukrainian front that depicts war, romance and sacrifice.
David Benioff’s City of Thieves, is a riveting account based on the author’s grandfather’s stories of survival during the 900 day Siege of Leningrad. I loved this book and hope it will be made into a movie.
The Cranes are Flying is a film notable for its realistic portrayal of women dealing with loss and not knowing the fate of their loved ones. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.
Ivan’s Childhood is a film about a 12 year old boy used as a spy on the Eastern Front and the soldiers who exploit and care for him at the same time.