Ivan is a character, apparently based on Vasily Grossman’s brother-in-law, who survived 30 years in a gulag before being released into ‘normal’ life. He is resilient enough to be able to rediscover the existence of love and kindness, as well as simple beauty and normality, without rejecting them.
Here, his newfound happiness allows him to examine his past.
Now that happiness had looked him in the eye, now that he had felt its breath on his face, he examined with great acuteness the life which had been his.
Source: Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Anna Aslanyan (London: Vintage Books, 2011), p. 157
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