August 2, 2021

“Years of war”: Vassili Grossman, redacted

“Years of war”, by Vassili Grossman, anonymous translation from Russian, preface by Mathias Enard, Autrement, 336 p., € 22.90.

In publishing houses, the old dormant collections sometimes conceal treasures. Alexandre Civico, editor at Autrement, has just had the happy experience. “It was in January, he recounts. I arrived from Inculte editions and I came across this title, Years of war. I thought to myself, “My God, a Grossman!” It was fabulous to find a text almost unknown to him. Exciting moreover. From there, things went quickly: the book came out in May. It was a strong sign for Autrement and for my arrival. “

For the general public, Vassili Grossman (1905-1964) is above all the author of Life and fate (1950-1962; Julliard, 1983), this masterpiece centered on the Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943) and the Chapochnikov family. Battle and family which serve as a starting point for composing, in the wake of For a just cause (1952; L’Age d’homme, 2000), an epic story of the Russian people caught up in the turmoil of the Second World War. But this war, Grossman lived it in his flesh. Before being the author of this diptych which will make his fame, he was himself on the Eastern front, correspondent of The Red Star (Red Star), the official organ of the Soviet Army. From 1941 to 1945, he was at the heart of the fighting.

From the first page, surprise

Alexandre Civico understands that what he has in his hands is none other than ” the matrix “ from Life and destiny. A first edition of these Years of war was published twenty-eight years earlier, in 1993, by Éditions Autrement then directed by Henry Dougier, with an afterword by the academic Alexis Berelowitch. Alexandre Civico wants to take it back, but in a different way. “My approach was above all literary: to show the raw material of an immense work to come. This is why I made the choice to delete the postscript and replace it with a writer’s preface ”, Mathias Enard.

Enticing project. But, from the first page, surprise: a note indicates that this edition resumes “Most of the chronicles” while proceeding to “A number of cuts” concerning “The pro-Stalinist passages that Vassili Grossman had to insert in his texts for obvious reasons of political propaganda”. He has not ” not seemed necessary [à l’éditeur] to reproduce what was obviously not related to his personal ideology ”.

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