Five Best: Novel Approaches to Kindness
By Linda Grant, Wall Street Journal
An excerpt: Life and Fate, by Vassily 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.
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