Grossman Berdichev Excerpt

Vasily Grossman

So those of you who are familiar with my work may know me as that guy who translated all the Grossman stories on To that end, I have been fiddling with what is arguably Grossman’s most famous short story, In the Town of Berdichev, since my time at Columbia. It was supposed to be included in my MA thesis but I ended  up putting on the back burner in favor of Grossman’s later work. It still needs work and hopefully I’ll actually finish it at some point, but since I was giving it a one over earlier, I thought I’d post an excerpt from it here for public consumption:


In the Town of Berdichev

It was odd to see how Vavilova’s dark, weathered face turned red.

“What are you laughing at?” she finally said. “It’s stupid.”

Kozyrev took a paper from the table, glanced at it, and laughed shaking his head.

“No, I can’t,” he gasped between laughs. “Report – from the commissar of the first battalion – forty days leave due to pregnancy.”

He became serious.

“So now what? Who will serve in your place? Should it really be Perelmuter from the political division?”

“Perelmuter is a dedicated communist,” replied Vavilova.

“You’re all dedicated,” stated Kozyrev and lowering his voice, as if speaking of something shameful, asked, “Will you be giving birth soon Klavdia?”

“Soon,” answered Vavilova, and, taking off her wool cap, wiped the sweat from her brow.

“I would get rid of him,” she said in a bass, “but I let it go too far. You know, I spent three months in the saddle outside of Grubeshov. And when I got to a hospital the doctor wouldn’t do it.”

She scrunched up her nose as if she were about to cry.

“I even threatened him with my damned Mauser. He refused, said it was too late.”

She left. Kozyrev sat at the table and looked over the report.

“Well, there you go, even Vavilova,” he thought, “she’s hardly a broad. She walks around with a Mauser, wears leather britches. How many times did she lead the battalion in an attack? She doesn’t even sound like a woman, but it seems that there is no escaping nature.”

And for some reason he became upset and a little sad.

On the report he wrote “order” and hesitantly twirled the end of the pen above the paper, sat, and furrowed his brow. How does one write this?

“To take effect immediately: a forty day leave of absence.” He thought some more and added, “due to illness” then scribbled on top “due to female”, swore and crossed out the “due to female.”

“You deal with them,” he said and called to the orderly. “Vavilova is one of ours, eh?” he stated loudly and angrily. “You’ve heard no doubt?”

“I heard,” answered the orderly, then shook his head and spit.

Together they discussed Vavilova and all women in general, exchanged a few dirty jokes, laughed, and Kozyrev, ordered to summon the commander of headquarters, said, “We ought to visit her tomorrow right? Find out if she’s in her apartment or in the hospital, and in general how everything is going.”

Later they sat around the table until morning with the commander of headquarters, pouring over the cloth maps, speaking little, like Poles.

Vavilova moved into a requisitioned room.

The house stood by the Iatka, which was what the city bazar was called. It belonged to Chaim-Abram Leibovich Magazanik, whose neighbors, and even his own wife called, Chaim Tuter, which meant the Tatar.

Vavilova’s move was accompanied with a scandal. A worker at the housing office brought her to the apartment; a thin lad in a leather jacket with a budenovka on his head. Magazanik scolded him in Yiddish, but the boy remained silent and simply shrugged.

Afterwards Magazanik switched to Russian.

-Vasily Grossman (Translated by me)


3 Responses to “Grossman Berdichev Excerpt”

  1. mikhailych Says:

    Thanks. I keep neglecting it. I really ought to finish it considering I’m about half done.

  2. martin lascoux Says:


    It would indeed be great to have a complete translation of the early work of Grossman. As pointed by Alexander Askoldov, the director of the Commissar, they capture beautifully the atmosphere of the 30’s (he would even prefer them to the late work). But since they have parts that were in line with the Party they are just ignored today. To give an example of the atmosphere among publishers, I read the late work of Grossman in French translations but some of those are often “edited” (namely, some parts which are judged “pro-Stalin” were simply removed by the editor!).


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