Once every few years, I take it into my fool head to read a big, ponderous, Russian novel. It's an eat-your-vegetables thing, a reaction to a self-induced guilt trip about having too much reading fun. So this book went on the to-be-read pile a few years back; it had been sitting on my shelves since 1987 or so.
Its pedigree is pretty good. The author, Vasily Grossman, was a combat correspondent during the Second World War, reporting on the battle for Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, and the Nazi's Treblinka death camp. He submitted the manuscript of Life and Fate in 1960 to a USSR literary journal. He was rewarded with rejection, and a visit from the KGB, who confiscated all known copies of the manuscript, plus the carbon paper and typewriter ribbons used to type it up. Grossman died a few years later. Eventually, a copy of the manuscript found its way to the West.
I'm sure this oversimplifies things massively: it's War and Peace, set during WW2. There's a huge cast of characters, all going through the agony of (a) war; (b) Nazi oppression; and/or (c) Stalinist oppression. The Battle of Stalingrad is described in all its grisly detail. Grossman pulls no punches on any front; most notably, he's absolutely chilling in detailing the nasty degradation of living under a totalitarian regime, living in fear that some innocent remark or decent act might get you ostracized or imprisoned. Did Trotsky politely praise an essay you wrote years back? Oh oh.
[By sheer coincidence, this book shares a near-identical scenario with the Chinese sci-fi novel I read slightly before this, The Three-Body Problem. In both, a physicist finds himself in deep political trouble for holding to "counter-revolutionary" interpretations of relativity and quantum mechanics. Thank goodness we don't politicize science here in the US these days … oh, wait.]
All in all, an arduous 871-page slog, full of those three-foot long patronymic names. (E.g., Yevgenia "call me Zhenya" Nicolaevna Shaposhnikovna.) I can't say it was fun, but it was worthwhile.