Mourning Diary - Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
My Dad passed away last November. He was 88 and had lived a full life. There was sadness, of course, but mostly what I felt, then and now, was gratitude. We had a wonderful relationship, left nothing unsaid, and I was lucky to have him as long as I did.
I inherited my love of books from my Dad. If I think of a childhood memory involving my Dad, most often it takes the form of my trips into town with him to go to various bookstores.
My Dad read non-fiction almost exclusively. He was an expert - you might almost describe his as a scholar of military history, other than that he had no real education beyond his fourteenth year. He studied the Eastern Front of World War II in considerable depth, and spoke to me of the horrors of the Battle of Stalingrad.
Unlike my Dad, I read a fairly even mixture of fiction and non-fiction. I've seen Vassily Grossman's novel, Life and Fate, described as a masterpiece on numerous occasions (most recently by Martin Amis), and it frequently draws comparisons with Tolstoy's War and Peace (unsurprisingly, it clocks in at just under 900 pages). It's a saga set around the siege of Stalingrad, but notably the action also takes place in Ukraine.
If my Dad were still here, I expect we'd be having conversations about the current tragic events unfolding in Ukraine. Instead, reading Life and Fate is a way of viewing the contemporary moment through the lens of history, while engaging my Dad through books, memory and imagination.