This compelling novel touches on some of the same grim themes as Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. However, it is based on the template of War and Peace. As a consequence, it has the political resonance of the former work, but the huge canvas of the latter masterpiece. Grossman shows an appreciation of political philosophy, coupled with the insight of a poet.
The narrative is an absorbing one and the reader is challenged by the magnitude of the historical events which form the framework of the tale. Somehow the ordinary person is taken to the streets of Stalingrad and to the interior of the Lubyanka. Despite the horrors he depicts, the author retains balance and a high degree of sympathy with the human condition.
While defeating Nazism was of profound importance, Grossman is scathing of what happened to the ideals of the Russian Revolution. There can be little surprise for a reader who discovers that the realist writer encountered harsh censorship. Nonetheless, by illuminating the kindnesses and braveries of which people are capable, Grossman ensures that his novel is not a disappointment for a genuine socialist.