Keith Gessen tracks Vasily Grossman’s transformation from a writer who “understood the rules [of the Soviet regime and intended] to play by them” into one who wrote “as if he had found a truth machine and needed to put everything in the Soviet Union through it.”
Contrary to Gessen’s expectations, however, a new collection of Grossman’s war writings don’t exactly serve as “a novel of education, recording a growing consciousness of the brutality and the corruption of the Soviet regime.”
In fact, a bit disappointingly, the Grossman we meet at the beginning of the book is already skeptical and wary of the regime. He notes the propaganda in the papers. “The bedraggled enemy continues his cowardly advance,” goes the headline, as the Germans take town after town. Interrogations of occasional German prisoners (at this point it was mostly Red Army soldiers who were being taken prisoner, in the hundreds of thousands) are absurd and demoralizing, a pathetic kind of Soviet tourism.