The BBC Radio 4 has just announced that Ken Branagh will play the leading character Viktor Shtrum in the forthcoming radio adaptation of Vassily Grossman's World War II epic novel Life and Fate. The Radio 4 press-release is here.
Alison Hindell, who is in charge of the production, admits, that, as a Russian speaker, she hadn't even heard the title, but having read the book realised how great it was. This is what she says about how they approached the dramatisation:
The novel is a sprawling epic, telling the loosely interconnected stories of members of one Russian family and their different experiences during the Battle of Stalingrad, the battle which clinched the defeat of the Germans in WWII. It works almost like a series of longish short stories: the number of characters named in the novel runs to over a thousand though the timespan is only a few months (Sept 1942 - April 1943). And the locations range from the frontline in Stalingrad to the Lubyanka in Moscow, from a Russian labour camp to a Nazi gas chamber, from Kuibyshev to Kazan, from the northern forests to the river Volga and more.The book was stolen from three generations of Russian and international reading public – a few days after Grossman submitted the manuscript to a literary journal in Moscow in October 1960 the KGB 'literary critics' raided his flat and the journal's office confisctaing all copies and even the carbon paper and typewriter ribbons. Miraculously a copy survived, kept by a dissident and was taken out of the Soviet Union on microfilm to be published in 1980s.
But the storylines of each group of characters largely stand alone so it is possible, for example, to read only the chapters about Viktor (the character most closely based on the author himself, Vasily Grossman) and get a complete story. And that structural device turned out to be the key to unlock a dramatic structure.
Hopefully the coming production will return one of the greatest works of Russian literature to the reading public and give it its due place in the pantheon of big novels.
Please read my earlier post on the BBC radio play here.
Photo: Giorgia Meschini, from here.