“Well, comrade Mostovskoy,” said Sofya, “so much for your 20th century. So much for its humanity and culture… All I see is unprecedented atrocities.” —Stalingrad, Vasily Grossman

In a conversation sometime in the mid-1970s, Saul Bellow remarked to me on the crucial difference between European and American writers of his generation. Writers in Europe have looked the devil in the eye, he said, while in America writers have to make do with irony, comedy, and anything else that comes to hand. The devil, of course, was totalitarianism, in particular fascism and Communism, which promised its adherents heaven and brought them unmitigated hell. 

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