If you have the battle of Stalingrad as the backdrop to your story the question is where to start. The choices seem pretty obvious with either introducing and developing the characters in the build-up to the battle; alternatively start the story in the heat of the conflict but not at a point where anything has been resolved; or something different to the two approaches outlined above.
Grossman opts for the third option and the story starts in a prisoner of war camp and you start by trying to work out whether the battle will be told through a retrospective lens but it turns out that the prisoner was captured early on and the description of the bombed out city and the heat of battle is still to come.
Bullet points between pages 1 – 80
* Things start with Mostivskoy who has been put in a camp run by the Germans and he describes the inequality in the camp system and the way it brings out the ugliness of human behaviour with some doing anything to protect themselves at the cost of others
* Then the story picks up the movements of the generals and commanders on the Russian side in the battle to hold a bridgehead on the Volga and the anxiety and fatalism of those running the conflict seems to be evident
* But of course the Russians couldn’t let their heads drop because there would be political commissars there to notice and the next character Krymov is introduced as he goes to deliver a lecture to soldiers at the front
* The general he visits then pops over the river to see Chuykov but they fail to talk about anything meaningful and the gallows humour and the differing opinions over the possibility of ever being victorious shows that despite the political pressures these are normal people fighting
* Then the story shifts to focus on a scientist Victor and his wife, mother-in-law and daughter as they have the luxury of sitting behind the lines and worrying about family members and try to carry on life against the backdrop of the war
* There is a powerful, haunting and moving letter sent to Victor by his mother who is a Jewish doctor who faces death now that the Germans have taken over where she lives and she is bidding him farewell a letter that he recieves and reads in secret