Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century Alexandra Popoff

Publication date:
14 May 2019
Yale University Press
424 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
27 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

The definitive biography of Soviet Jewish dissident writer Vasily Grossman
If Vasily Grossman’s 1961 masterpiece, Life and Fate, had been published during his lifetime, it would have reached the world together with Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and before Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag. But Life and Fate was seized by the KGB. When it emerged posthumously, decades later, it was recognized as the War and Peace of the twentieth century. Always at the epicenter of events, Grossman (1905–1964) was among the first to describe the Holocaust and the Ukrainian famine. His 1944 article “The Hell of Treblinka” became evidence at Nuremberg. Grossman’s powerful anti‑totalitarian works liken the Nazis’ crimes against humanity with those of Stalin. His compassionate prose has the everlasting quality of great art. Because Grossman’s major works appeared after much delay we are only now able to examine them properly. Alexandra Popoff’s authoritative biography illuminates Grossman’s life and legacy.

Alexandra Popoff is a former Moscow journalist, an expert on Russian literature and cultural history, and the author of several literary biographies, including the award-winning Sophia Tolstoy, and The Wives, a Wall Street Journal best nonfiction title for 2012.

“Popoff's summary of Grossman's life in the 1930s is striking. [. . .] clear and well-structured”—Robert Chandler, Spectator

“Alexandra Popoff's biography is crisp and comprehensive, deftly interweaving Grossman's personal life with the momentous events he experienced”—John Thornhill, Financial Times

 “[A] fine biography”—William Boyd, Sunday Times

“Gripping . . . As told by Popoff, the stories behind Grossman’s stories, particularly of censors’ efforts to alter and limit them, are fascinating.”—William Taubman, New York Times

“[Popoff] tells Grossman’s story with sensitivity and a keen understanding of his world, drawing on little-known archival collections to produce what must be considered the definitive biography.”—Douglas Smith, The Wall Street Journal

“[Popoff’s] emphasis on what she calls “the connection between totalitarian regimes and political ignorance” not only applies to Soviet Russia but constitutes a warning for the United States” —William Taubman, International New York Times

“Excellent biography”—Ian Thomson, Evening Standard

“Popoff ’s biography offers useful context to how Grossman contemplated death and his own mortality at an early age [. . .] and how Russia’s future was a central topic as he grew up”—Julian Evans, The Daily Telegraph

“Alexandra Popoff’s account excels in depicting Vasily Grossman’s battle with oppressive censors” —Philip Ó Ceallaigh, The Irish Times

“Alexandra Popoff’s biography, Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century, provides fascinating detail about his publishing travails.” —Louise Adler, The Sydney Morning Herald

“For a new study of Grossman's life, readers can turn to Alexandra Popoff's Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century”Oldie

Longlisted for the 2019 Cundill History Prize sponsored by McGill University

  Winner of the the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in the Biography category, sponsored by the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies

"Alexandra Popoff has produced a magnificent biography of the great Soviet Jewish writer and journalist Vasily Grossman. Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century does justice to Grossman’s outspoken eloquence and defiance as one of the twentieth century’s foremost witnesses to the twin evils of Nazism and Stalinism."—Joshua Rubenstein, author of The Last Days of Stalin

“A harrowing tale of cruelty and courage, this unflinching study of Vasily Grossman’s life in a totalitarian society is a timely reminder of how all despots thrive on fear and lies. Alexandra Popoff has given us an invaluable autopsy of various Soviet monsters, including the enigmatic Stalin himself, yet in her inspiring account of Grossman’s efforts to resist tyranny, she has also created an unforgettable portrait of one brave soul’s triumph over a soulless state.”—Michael Shelden, author of Orwell: The Authorized Biography