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A Ukrainian Conscience Lost By Complicity, Recovered By Remorse

Mar 7, 2014
Originally published on March 7, 2014 5:29 pm

Anthony Marra recommends Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman as a way to understand the events unfolding in Ukraine.

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For the past few weeks, headlines and newscasts have been dominated by the situation unfolding in Ukraine: violent protests, the ousting of a president and troops on the move. Today, we turn to literature to help explain the origins of this conflict. Here's author Anthony Marra.

ANTHONY MARRA: If Vasily Grossman were alive today, he'd be reporting news from Kiev. Grossman was a Soviet war journalist and author. Half a century after his death, his fiction is still harrowing. It's an insight into the legacy of Stalin and the historical trauma in Ukraine. Both are still causing tensions there.

Grossman was a correspondent for the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star. He also traveled through Ukraine and he returned to the region again in fiction. His last novel was called "Everything Flows." It's the story of a man released after 30 years in a gulag. Once he's out, he falls in love with a woman named Anna, who collaborated with the Soviets in the terror famine of the 1930s.

Millions of Ukrainians were killed, but Grossman presents Anna with unvarnished clarity. As a young woman, she had been an official on a collective farm. She placed her faith in the party but couldn't square the party's version of reality with the suffering surrounding her.

I knew one woman with four children, Anna confesses. She could hardly move her tongue, but she kept telling them fairy tales to try to make them forget their hunger. She muses that the executioner executes the human being inside his own self. Grossman doesn't minimize the human being inside Anna. Instead, he creates a conflicted portrait of a conscience lost by complicity and recovered by remorse.

Happiness, it turns out, will be to share with you the burden I can't share with anyone else, he writes. It makes you think that maybe the afterlife is not the place we depart for but the story we leave behind.


BLOCK: And the novel we were hearing about is titled "Everything Flows" by Vasily Grossman. It was recommended by Anthony Marra, author of "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena."



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