Russia releases manuscript of banned wartime classic

Russia's security service on Thursday released from its secret archives the manuscript of a classic World War II novel described as the "War and Peace" of the 20th century, over 50 years after it was confiscated by the Soviet authorities.

Vassily Grossman's epic novel "Life and Fate", completed in 1960, was banned in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s but is now considered to be one of the greatest of all Russian novels.

The Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB, handed the novel's manuscript over to Russia's literary archives where it can now be consulted by scholars, state ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

"Taking into account its uniqueness and the value of the manuscript, the head of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov has decided to hand it permanently to the literary archives," the FSB said in a statement.

The handover, which took place at a ceremony attended by Bortnikov and Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, is a symbol of the book's resurrection after its languishing as an undiscovered masterpiece for decades.

"Western critics believe that the novel is one of the most outstanding works of the 20th century -- showing all our complicated, heroic and astonishing history through an entire generation," said Medinsky in comments broadcast on Russian television.

The papers released by the FSB include the original manuscript, type-written versions, photocopies with corrections, and notes by the author -- a total of 10,000 pages and a goldmine for scholars.

The novel was deeply uncomfortable for the Soviet authorities owing to its unflinching portrayal of the effects of the 1930s Stalin-era purges and continued repression on Soviet citizens living through World War II.

The book is one of very few Russian novels from the period to grapple with the crimes of Stalin as well as record the heroism of the Soviet people during World War II.

Grossman took a decade to write the novel but in 1961 the KGB confiscated the manuscript and the other type-written versions.

In response to his pleas over its fate, Grossman was famously told by one Soviet official that it would only be published in 200-300 years.

The novel was only published because a friend of Grossman had kept a copy. A Russian-language edition was published in Switzerland in 1980 and it subsequently appeared in French translation.

An abridged edition was published in the Soviet Union for the first time in 1988 and its reputation has grown further since the fall of Communism.

The book became even more popular in Russia last year after the broadcast of a major serialisation on state television.

The huge novel tells the story of a number of inter-linked characters against the background of the battle of Stalingrad in World War II, earning comparisons with Tolstoy's masterpiece "War and Peace".

The relatives of Grossman -- who died in 1964 without ever having seen the book published -- hailed the return of the manuscript, ITAR-TASS reported.

"Today is bright celebration for the return of the book," said his daughter Ekaterina. "The book has been liberated and what was forbidden is now open," she said.


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