Krymov thought of Jan Kubelik with his silver hair and his black dinner-jacket. But how was it that the famous violinist now seemed overshaddowed by a mere barber? Why should this simple tune played on a cheap fiddle seem to express the depths of the human soul more truly than Bach or Mozart?
For the thousandth time Krymov felt the pain of loneliness. Zhenya had left him . . .
Once again he thought how Zhenya's departure expressed the dynamic of his life. He remained, but there was nothing left of him; and she had gone. There were many harsh truths he had to admit to himself. Yes, he had been closing his eyes for too long . . .
Somehow the music seemed to have helped him to understand time. Time is a transparent medium. People and cities arise out of it, move through it and disappear back into it. It is time that brings them and time that takes them away.
But the understanding that had just come to Krymov was a very different one: the understanding that says, 'This is my time,' or, 'No, this is no longer our time.' Time flows into a man or State, makes its home there and then flows away; the man and the State remain, but their time has passed. Where has their time gone? The man still thinks, breathes and cries, but his time, the time that belonged to him and to him alone, has disappeared.
There is nothing more difficult than to be a stepson of the time; there is no heavier fate than to live in an age that is not your own. Stepsons of the time are easily recognized: in personnel departments, Party district committees, army political sections, editorial offices, on the street . . . Time loves only those it has given birth to itself: its own children, its own heroes, its own labourers. Never can it come to love the children of a past age, any more than a woman can love the heroes of a past age, or a stepmother love the children of another woman.
Such is time: everything passes, it alone remains, everything remains, it alone passes. And how swiftly and noiselessly it passes. Only yesterday you were sure of yourself, strong and cheerful, a son of the time. But now another time has come - and you don't even know it.
In yesterday's fighting, time had been torn to shreds; now it emerged again from the plywood fiddle belonging to Rubinchik the barber. This fiddle told some that their time had come and others that their time had passed.
Life and Fate - Vassily Grossman
Man Booker International Prize judges
45 minutes ago