This is a great book. It's one of those books that you pick up and read it in one or two sittings, not even realizing you're reading. You put it down and think, "Huh, that was a good book," and then go do other things. And a day later you realize, "I'm still thinking about that book." Another day goes by, you realize, "Wait, I'm STILL thinking about that book." This goes on and on, and you understand that you've read a book that has made a lasting impact on you.
The story - no spoiler here, don't worry - is about a man who goes mute and spends the rest of his life painting one long, incredible picture, that goes on and one for miles. When he dies, his sons come back to sell the picture and realize one year of their father's life is missing from this long painting. As they search for that missing year - get the title now? - they discover who their father really was. It's a beautiful story and I really recommend it. And a week or two weeks or a month after you've read the book (well, for me it's only been two weeks since I read it, so maybe I'm projecting a bit), you'll still be thinking of your life in terms of how you'd paint it.
The back of the book says "Everything flows is Vasily Grossman's final testament, written after the Soviet authorities suppressed his masterpiece, Life and Fate." No wonder they suppressed it. It's a cry in the wilderness that finally is being heard, and the volume in this novel is turned up to MAX.
Ivan returns from many years in the camps and has to find his place in a completely changed world. Reminds me of this, from an interview with Russian writer Vasily Aksenov, describing how his father returned from a stint in the gulags:
"I was sleeping on a folding cot, the same folding cot I had spent all my young years sleeping on, and then suddenly someone knocked on the door. My aunt went to open it, and she started screaming like crazy. It was her brother, my father, at the door. I remember he had this huge bag with him, and he started taking things out...clothing, books, a kerosene stove and some firewood. I said 'For what?' and he said, 'For a campfire.' He had been gone so long he had forgotten about civilization. In fact when we asked him why he hadn't sent us a telegram to tell us he was coming, he said he had forgotten that there even was such a thing. There he was, with his sack over his shoulder, looking at me, and he said, 'You are my son? No, I don't believe it! I cannot recognize you at all.'"
Grossman's writing cold and impolite. He tears the t-shirt off of Soviet society and exposes the prison tattoos marking its underbelly. A moving, terrifying novel, but one that ultimately places love over revenge and gives a place at the table to humanity again.
There's a great introduction by the translator and some nice end notes for those of us who are less than perfectly versed in Soviet history. A great book. A great piece of history. Wish I could drop it like a (feathery) brick upon the heads of all the evilmongers in the world.
This one is a doozy. Gurganus has crawled into the skin of an ancient storytelling tough as nails Southern jewel(ess), and fashioned a tale that recreates the mores, pride, defeat, victory, sin and sex of the life of one crazy old bat. I picked this novel up when I was hiking through Panama and it helped me get through a rainstorm in the jungle and a mugging at the beach.