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Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century with Alexandra Popoff

When in May 2018 Lev Dodin’s production of Life and Fate premiered in London, reviews in the UK described it as “a warning from Russian history.” Grossman’s topics the dangers of nationalism, the rise of totalitarianism and antisemitism in 20th century Europe– remain among the most discussed today. As Timothy Snyder writes in Bloodlands, “The Nazi and the Stalinist totalitarian systems must be compared, not so much to understand the one or the other but to understand our times and ourselves.”

Alexandra Popoff’s talk will cover Grossman’s life, beginning with his upbringing in a secular, assimilated Jewish family; his early writing career and journalistic fame that peaked during the war when he reported from Stalingrad and Treblinka. The discussion will focus on Grossman’s novel Stalingrad, published in 1952 during Stalin’s campaign against the Jews and foreigners. The prequel to Life and Fate, this novel will soon appear in a translation by Robert Chandler - who will be chairing this evening.

Alexandra Popoff was born in Moscow into a family of Russian Jews. Upon graduating from the Gorky Literary Institute she worked as a writer and editor at the Literary Gazette. In 1991, as an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow, she wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer and its Sunday magazine. Popoff holds two graduate degrees in literature from the University of Toronto and University of Saskatchewan where she has also worked as a lecturer. She is the author of three literary biographies and the upcoming Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century (Yale University Press, March 2019). She has lived in Canada since 1992.

Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century illuminates the life and legacy of the writer, whose early accounts about the Holocaust and Ukraine’s famine remain among the most powerful. Grossman’s 1960 novel Life and Fate could have reached the world together with Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and before Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag. But in 1961 this masterpiece was seized by the KGB. When it emerged decades later, this novel was recognized as the War and Peace of the twentieth century. Because Grossman’s writing was banned his major works appeared after much delay and we are beginning to properly examine them only now. His prose––and his famous article “The Hell of Treblinka”––have the everlasting quality of great art.

This event is organised by Pushkin Club and all are welcome.