Saturday, June 25, 2011

Five best books: novel approaches to kindness

Linda Grant is a novelist and journalist. She won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000 and the Lettre Ulysses Prize for the Art of Reportage in 2006. Her novels include The Clothes on Their Backs, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008, and the recently released We Had It So Good.

At the Wall Street Journal she named a five best list of book with novel approaches to kindness, including:
Life and Fate
by Vasily Grossman (1959)

An old Russian woman, seeing a captured German soldier, raises a brick to throw at him, but at the last moment she instead hands him a piece of bread. The woman has no idea why she does this and in the years to come will remain just as baffled. Vasily Grossman's novel ostensibly concerns World War II, which he covered as a Soviet war correspondent. But his true subject is the power of kindness—random, banal or heroic—to counter the numbing dehumanization of totalitarianism. A young soldier tactfully removes a louse from the collar of a female soldier's uniform before kissing her. A middle-aged, unmarried and unloved woman, a doctor, volunteers to go into the gas chamber with an unaccompanied boy so that he will not have to die alone. Her final thought: At last, she is a mother. By the novel's end, both communism and fascism are reduced to ephemera; instinctive kindness, whatever the consequences, is what makes us human.
Read about another novel on the list.

Life and Fate also appears among Andrew Roberts's five best World War II memoirs and Antony Beevor's five best works of fiction about World War II.

--Marshal Zeringue