The Epochal Man. Daniil Granin

“There was three men inside me, or, maybe, more. It is hard to come to a conclusion about oneself and evaluate what man there was, as one is different, multi-faceted”. 

So the 60-year-old Granin wrote. One may think that Granin, the young and enthusiastic engineer, and Granin, the soldier of the great and terrifying war, and Granin, the writer who was deemed a classic while still alive, are different persons. Yet, his contemporaries and admirers saw his fate in another perspective. In the biography of this man whose life was long and eventful, one can feel the undeniable integrity and predestination.

Happy Years 

When remembering his childhood, Daniil Granin wrote that he spent it in both the woods and the city. In his childhood there were “a bath-house among snow banks, winter roads, do-it-yourself skis and sledge, howling wolves and the cozy flickering light of a kerosene lamp…” On the other hand, there was Leningrad and his school where he took classes from outstanding teachers of the former Tenishev school, one of Russia’s best gymnasiums before the Revolution. His parents lived separately, as Dad could not quit his job of a ranger, and Mom did not want to live in the wilderness. So, the boy spent his summers with his father in the woods, and his winters, with his mother in a big city. 

At school, Daniil was an impassioned admirer of history and books, and at the same time he was literally enchanted with physics classes. As the young man loved physics so much, his parents decided that he would be an engineer. And Daniil Herman — that was the real surname of the future writer — made it into the Polytechnic Institute. He was attracted to the romanticism of energy engineering and hydro power stations, automated technology. Daniil practiced his skills in the Caucasus, at the DneproGES hydro power station; he worked as a service technician, assembler and bench-board operator. Quite unexpectedly, even to himself, he started to write a historical long story about Jaroslaw Dombrowski, the Paris Commune hero. His two short stories were printed in the Rezets literary magazine. Daniil successfully graduated from the Institute and began to work at the Kirov plant in Leningrad. He was involved in designing a special device for detecting damages in electric cables, and then the World War II broke out.

Fearsome time 

The young man was eager to get to the frontline and managed to lift his exemption from active duty and volunteered to join the people’s militia. He was engaged in combat actions in the Leningrad front, then the Baltic front — as an infantry man and as a tank crewman. He was wounded twice and by the end of the war was promoted to a commander of heavy tank company in East Prussia.

Those years defined the future writer’s fate. For a long time, he could not write nor even talk about the war. At an old age Granin shared his thoughts on this subject: “It was so hard a time, there was too much death around. If I could mark, as if on a training target, all the bullets, shrapnel, mines, bombs, and shells that whizzed by, then my survived figure would have been etched in the pierced air with bewitching clarity. Long after the war, I deemed my existence a miracle, and I thought that I was given my postwar life as an invaluable inheritance. At war, I came to know how to hate, to kill, to avenge, to be cruel, and many other things that no man needs.”

Only in 1968, he started to talk about his front-line experience, when his short novel “Our Battalion Commander”, his first book about the World War II, was published. It made a deep impression on its readers and caused red-hot debate. Starting with this book, the war in the works of Daniil Granin would appear in not a smart, too ordinary way — and, thus, even more horrifying. Such were his long story “Claudia Vilor” and the novel “My Lieutenant”.

But that would happen later. Back then, the writer chose for his fiction another kind of characters — and another time, time of peace.   

Difficult choice

After the war, Granin worked in Lenenergo (Leningrad’s energy complex) as head of the district’s cable network, and helped restore the city’s energy complex destroyed during the siege. After that, for a short period, he worked at a research Institute and did his postgraduate studies. It is to postgraduate students that he devoted his first short story published under the pen-name “Daniil Granin” — “The Second Option”. The story appeared in 1948 in the Zvezda magazine, and, at the request of his namesake writer Yuri Herman, who was in charge of the Zvezda’s prose department, Daniil invented his pen-name.

“Those were the wonderful days, Granin told much later, I did not have plans to become a writer, as for me writing fiction was merely fun, a pleasure, a joy, like a walk in the mountains or the meadows… In my days of youth when I was much stronger it seemed to me that I could combine science and literature. And I did want to combine them. No way! Both drew me with ever growing force and jealousy. Both were wonderful. Then the day came when I discovered a dangerous crack inside my heart. I just had to make a choice. Either — or.” 

In 1954, his novel “The Searchers” instantly made its author famous: he was made a delegate to the Soviet Writers’ Congress, his novel was adapted for the screen… And he made the crucial decision — he dropped from the Institute and devoted himself to literary work.

Granin wrote about the life he knew best, about the people he loved and respected. One by one, his new books were brought out: novels “After the Wedding” and “Going for the Storm”, collections of short novels and short stories, literary biographies of bio­logist Alexander Lyubishchev (“This Odd Life”), physicist Igor Kurchatov (“The Choice of the Purpose”), geneticist Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky (“The Bison”), travelogues and essays… Daniil Granin recalled: “Gradually, my life focused on literary work. Novels, short novels, screenplays, reviews, essays. A writer should, probably, be capable of doing everything. This is called professionalism. I tried to master various genres, including science fiction…”

But in the writer’s body of work there is a special book that he wrote in collaboration with the Belarussian author Ales Adamovich.

The Siege’s Chronicle

In 1977 Granin and Adamovich began to collect material for “The Book of the Siege” about the siege of Leningrad during the World War II. For several years, they recorded people’s oral histories, which was not easy: “When we came to interview the former residents of the besieged Leningrad they could go into hysterics. They couldn’t tell anything. At first, they would shoo us out, and then called on the phone and asked to come back. They wanted to get rid of it. It was horrible. Adamovich got sick, then I got sick… “But they did not stop their effort: two hundred life stories were collected, and the total amount of printed material amounted to four thousand pages.

“The Book of the Siege” did not only have a sensitive subject, but also a tortuous fate. While the censors proposed to omit 65 stories, the Communist Party leader of Leningrad Grigory Romanov altogether forbade to publish the book. “The siege of Leningrad, he said to Granin, is a heroic epic. And you described not the people’s exploits, but sufferings and woes of hunger, everything is reduced to it; it seems you debunk the story of the great valor of the people who saved the city. This ideology is alien to us”.

Initially, fragments of “The Book of the Siege” were published in 1977 in the Novy Mir magazine. In its entirety the book appeared in 1984, and only in 2002 the original text was printed without censorship’s alterations.

In 2014, German parliamentarians gathe­red in the Bundestag for the traditional “Hour of Remembrance”. That year was dedicated to the lifting of the siege of Leningrad, and Daniil Granin was invited to the Bundestag.

“I will speak as a soldier, the coauthor of “The Book of the Siege” began his presentation. In dead silence, he talked about what he remembered about the siege, what he heard from the survivors, and what he understood about any war: “It often transpired that among the saved ones were those who saved — who stood in bread lines, foraged for firewood, tended the sick, contributed a crust of bread, a cube of sugar… Compassion and mercy, these are typical feelings of residents of the besieged city. Of course, the rescuers died, too, but I was impressed how their souls allowed them not to be dehumanized… There is such sacred space. When a person regains compassion and spirituality. In the end, it is not force that always triumphs, but justice and truth. And this is the wonder of victory, of love of life and man…”

Oksana Vasiliadi