An Armenian Sketchbook (New York Review Books Classics)
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An NYRB Classics Original
Few writers had to confront as many of the last century’s mass tragedies as Vasily Grossman, who wrote with terrifying clarity about the Shoah, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Terror Famine in the Ukraine. An Armenian Sketchbook, however, shows us a very different Grossman, notable for his tenderness, warmth, and sense of fun.
After the Soviet government confiscated—or, as Grossman always put it, “arrested”—Life and Fate, he took on the task of revising a literal Russian translation of a long Armenian novel. The novel was of little interest to him, but he needed money and was evidently glad of an excuse to travel to Armenia. An Armenian Sketchbook is his account of the two months he spent there.
This is by far the most personal and intimate of Grossman’s works, endowed with an air of absolute spontaneity, as though he is simply chatting to the reader about his impressions of Armenia—its mountains, its ancient churches, its people—while also examining his own thoughts and moods. A wonderfully human account of travel to a faraway place, An Armenian Sketchbook also has the vivid appeal of a self-portrait.
important battles from the defense of Moscow to the fall of Berlin. His vivid yet sober “The Hell of Treblinka” (late 1944), one of the first articles in any language about a Nazi death camp, was translated and used as testimony in the Nuremberg trials. His novel For a Just Cause (originally titled Stalingrad) was published to great acclaim in 1952 and then fiercely attacked. A new wave of purges—directed against the Jews—was about to begin; but for Stalin’s death, in March 1953, Grossman would
snowy mountain, this bluish-white sunlit mountain that shone in the eyes of those who wrote the Bible. The young and fashionable of this city love black suits. The shops are well supplied; there is plenty of butter, sausages, and meat. And the young women are lovely, though some of them really do have terribly big noses. One thing astonishes me: An old man or woman has only to raise their hand and a bus driver will stop for them; people here are kind and compassionate. Pretty young women walk
mountain slopes are arid and her stone looks invincible. Only titanic labor can have given birth to peach orchards amid this hot stone; only titanic labor can have extracted grape juice from basalt. As a young man I worked for some time in the Donbass. I was sent to Smolyanka II, the deepest and hottest coal mine in the entire USSR, with the most dangerous concentrations of gas. The main shaft was eight hundred and thirty-two meters deep, while some of the eastern galleries were more than a
many compromises he had made in the course of his life and he refused to agree to this demand. As a result, Dobro vam was not published until 1965, eight months after Grossman’s death—and then only with the omission of whole chapters. The complete text was published in November 1988 in the journal Znamya. It is this text, prepared from the manuscript by Grossman’s daughter, Yekaterina Korotkova, and republished in Russia several times, that we have used for the present translation. It should
the crucified God, that Vazgen I, the supreme pastor of all Armenians, conducts the most solemn of services. Generations of Armenian catholicoi, their bodies now buried in marble tombs beside the main door, have officiated at services and glorified Christ, little knowing that a pagan sacrificial stone lay sullenly beneath their feet. But the spirit of paganism neither died nor went underground. It lives on in Armenian villages, in drunken songs and stories from the past, in the skeptical