The Secret Story of "Stalingrad"

by Dr Jekaterina Shulga in London, England, United Kingdom

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On 27th August 2017 we successfully raised £3,000 with 57 supporters in 35 days

Trip to archives in Moscow to start uncovering the complex story of the editing, censorship and publication of Grossman's "Stalingrad"

by Dr Jekaterina Shulga in London, England, United Kingdom


My name is Katia and in 2013 I finsihed my PhD at University College London in the subject of trauma in Vasily Grossman and Yury Dombrovsky's writing. My family had lived through the Gulag camps, deportations and the suffering of World War II, and that's why I always wanted to understand these subjects more. I loved researching the topics and stumbled upon a really interesting story about Vasily Grossman's novel For A Just Cause (to be published in UK as Stalingrad). It was difficult to write about this novel because there were so many versions available. I also realised how severely the Soviet state edited and censored novels, and ever since then I have wanted to return to this topic and uncover exactly what happend to this novel. 


I am seeking funding to go to Moscow and uncover what is hidden in the archive. A clear chronological outline of the writing, editing and publication of the novel is long overdue and would be an excellent basis for further research and understanding of the complexities of Soviet Censorship.  This research will be published in the form of an extensive afterword to the English language edition published in UK in 2019.

This funding will support the research, the writing and the publication of an afterword to the first ever translation of Vasily Grossman's novel Stalingrad.

Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have already donated the prize money of £1000 that they have won for a translation of Teffi to help fund this project.  There have also been further donations from Françoise Pinteaux-Jones of £100 and E Roberts of £150 for which I am deeply grateful. 

The money raised will enable to fund the following:

  •  visa fees
  • cost of flights
  • accommodation
  • time spent in archives to research
  • copying of material in archives
  • write this aferword

The more funds that I am able to raise, the more in-depth work I will be able to carry out. This would mean looking more deeply at the specific changes made during the editing and censorship of the novel. 

Why is this important?:

"The work of Vasily Grossman stands as one of the greatest literary achievements of the 20th century – in any language.  Grossman’s magnificent novels dissect and penetrate the impact of authoritarianism, particularly Stalinism, at every level of experience . His dazzling array of characters endure death, war, the army , the gulags, the arbitrariness of repression – all the while having to cope with their own doubts , the strains in their family relationships, the breakdown of trust.   Grossman clings to the importance of individual human decency and lambasts tyranny in all its ideological forms. He is a colossus."

- Mark Damazer, Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford; Controller BBC Radio 4 ( 2004 – 10 ).

"Historians have made good use of Vasily Grossman' novels and of his wartime notebooks.  There has been discussion, much of it somewhat vague, of his ideas about freedom.  But there is a sad dearth of serious literary scholarship.  
        It is still not generally known that the novel we know as LIFE AND FATE is really only the second half of a far longer novel.  The first half, FOR A JUST CAUSE (though Grossman’s original title was simply STALINGRAD) was first published in 1952.  It is at least as great as LIFE AND FATE, but it has been unaccountably ignored.
        Our translation of STALINGRAD (as it will be titled in English) will be published in early 2019.  I want to accompany it with a substantial afterword about Grossman’s fifteen years of work on these two vast novels.  The central literary archive in Moscow is said to contain no less than ten different MS versions of the earlier novel, as well as transcripts of the meetings at the Writers Union where the novel is discussed in detail.  This constitutes a unique resource for studying both the evolution of Grossman’s thought and the workings of Soviet censorship - and how Grossman responded to it.  
        Jekaterina Shulga has already completed an excellent PhD, largely devoted to Grossman.  I cannot think of anyone better equipped to carry out this crucial research."

- Robert Chandler, Literary Translator, (Grossman, Pushkin, Teffi) 

Story of the novel:

The publication of Vasily Grossman’s For a Just Cause (Za pravoe delo, 1952/64) is a complex topic that has been subject to much anecdote but little sustained analysis.

 In 1942 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and Vasily Grossman set out to Stalingrad as a war reporter in order to document the invasion and the battle though the eyes of the common soldiers. It was during these years that he decided do dedicate his life to narrating the atrocities committed, and the kindness of common people on both sides of the battle. What he didn’t fully realise, is that he was about to enter into a battle with the Soviet state himself, fighting for his right to publish the truth about what he saw and what he experienced. All Soviet writers were under strict censorship, many of whom ended up in Gulag camps because of their outspokenness, but writers who wanted to write about the Great Patriotic was were monitored even more carefully. Not just anybody was allowed to write about the heroism of the Soviet soldiers, and not just anything, the novel had to fit the ideology and narrative surrounding the war created by the state.

Grossman’s novel, first titled Life and Fate, then Stalingrad and finally For a Just Cause was written and published in what was arguably the most severe period of censorship (1946-1953). All writing on the war was heavily scrutinised, censored and rewritten in order to fit the official line. Although it is the prequel to now widely read and celebrated Life and Fate (Zhizn’ i sud’ba, 1980/1988), its own history is still largely in obscurity. As Robert Chandler is translating the novel into English for the first time, and it will be published in 2019, the relevance and importance of the publication and censorship has come to the forefront.

During the process of editing the novel between 1949 and 1952 Grossman kept a diary outlining all his interactions with the editorial office, which he called “A Diary of a Manuscript’s Progress”, a document that offers invaluable insight into the censorship of writers in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, there are up to thirteen other versions of the novel in archives in Moscow, the comparison of which will shed light on the process of this editorial work. The archive also holds the full minutes of meetings of the Novyi mir editorial board in relation to the novel from 1948-1954. All of these sources will allow to uncover the complex process of creating an epic of the war.

The questions that this research will answer are: what was Grossman advised to delete and add? Why did he revise the novel again in 1964? How similar is the 1964 version to the original 1949? What were the main arguments about the novel? (Which sections were most controversial?) When did the greatest changes happen? What was the feedback from the Army General who read the novel? 

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