The Books Interview: Yekaterina Korotkova-Grossman

Your father, Vasily Grossman, began writing his last novel, Everything Flows, in 1955 - two years after Stalin's death - and it was published in 1963. Do you think that the political climate of the time had an effect on the kind of novel he was able to write?
Yes. More particularly, there is no doubt that the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962 had an effect on my father.

Do you agree with your friend's judgement, which you quote in the afterword to the new edition of Everything Flows, that this novel is "even more uncompromising" than his magnum opus, Life and Fate?
Yes, without a doubt.

Robert Chandler (Vasily Grossman's translator) adds: Though Life and Fate is far longer, it is, surprisingly, more limited in scope. There is nothing in it that is remotely similar to the searing analysis of Russian history that constitutes the last section of Everything Flows.

What do you regard as the strongest part of Everything Flows? The section on the Ukrainian famine, perhaps?
I think that is the most powerful chapter, not only in this book, but in all of my father's work.

The Kremlin still refuses to acknowledge that the Terror-Famine in Ukraine amounted to genocide. Do you think your father's work can help to change that?
As far as I know, the present government has never denied that a huge number of people died during collectivisation. But this was not an act of genocide committed by the Russians against the Ukrainians; it was a blow struck against the entire Soviet peasantry. Fertile areas of the Don and the Kuban suffered every bit as badly as Ukraine. And there were famines at other times and in other areas of Russia - the Voronezh province, the Volga.

Do you think Stalin's image is being rehabilitated in the Soviet Union today?
I don't think that Stalin has been rehabilitated. The pro-Stalinist section of the population is not so very large. For the most part, these people are young and poorly educated.

How do you assess Stalin's legacy?
Very negatively indeed. It is Stalin's crimes and mistakes that brought about the collapse and disintegration of my motherland - the Soviet Union.

Which of your father's works do you most admire and why?
Good Wishes - his account of the two months he spent in Armenia in late 1961. This is his kindest, most good-natured work. I also especially admire "In the Big Ring", one of his very last stories. This, I believe, will last for ever.

Robert Chandler adds: "In the Big Ring" is about a child from an elite family who is rushed to an ordinary village hospital.
Acute illness throws the little girl into the company of women from other social classes, broadening and deepening her sense of life. We have not included it in The Road (the selection of Grossman's stories to be published this September by MacLehose Press) because we did not feel we could reproduce the wordplay that is so crucial in this story. But I, too, love Good Wishes - and my wife and I hope to translate it next year.

It has been said that the structure of Life and Fate resembles that of War and Peace. Did your father see himself as working in the tradition of the great Russian masters, such as Tolstoy?
Yes, my father revered Tolstoy but - as you suggest - his novel is not an imitation of Tolstoy. Rather, it is written in continuation of the Tolstoyan tradition.

Life and Fate is dedicated to your grandmother. Did your father see writing the book as a way of keeping his mother's memory alive?

It is a complex book. Certainly, that was one of the inspirations behind it. The chapters about her death are particularly powerful.

Yekaterina Korotkova-Grossman will be in conversation with Robert Chandler during the London Review Bookshop World Literature Weekend at 2pm on 20 June. For tickets, click here.

Jonathan Derbyshire is executive opinion editor of the Financial Times. He was formerly managing editor of Prospect and culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The age of ideas