Books

An Armenian Sketchbook

An Armenian Sketchbook Vasily Grossman (Estate)
Pub date 19th February 2013
Original publisher Journal Oktyabr (Russia), 1988
International publishers Uitgeverij Balans (Netherlands), Dom Quixote (Portugal) Galaxia Gutenberg (Spain)
Publisher (UK) Quercus Publishing
Publisher (US) The New York Review of Books

The original Russian title is DOBRO VAM (Good wishes to you)

Translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler

Few writers had to confront as many of the last century’s mass tragedies as Vasily Grossman. He is likely to be remembered, above all, for the terrifying clarity with which he writes about the Shoah, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Terror Famine in the Ukraine. An Armenian Sketchbook, however, shows us a very different Grossman; it is notable for its tenderness, warmth, and sense of fun.

After the “arrest”—as Grossman always put it—of Life and Fate, he took on the task of editing 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. Although its many threads are deftly woven together, it has 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—and even his various physical problems. Grossman did not realize it, but the real cause of these problems was that he was already suffering from cancer, soon to be found in one of his kidneys. Just as Everything Flows is his political testament, so An Armenian Sketchbook is his personal testament.

Grossman could have published this work in his lifetime. The censors asked only that he omit fifteen lines about an elderly Armenian peasant who spoke at length, at a village wedding, about the terrible suffering endured by both the Jewish and the Armenian peoples. By that time in his life, Grossman had grown to feel deeply ashamed of all the compromises he had made with the Soviet authorities and he refused to agree to the censors’ demand. As a result, An Armenian Sketchbook was published only posthumously. A bowdlerized Russian text was published in 1967 and a complete text in 1988. This is the first English translation.

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