Its literary merits (and there are many) aside, [Heavy Sand] is an important book, for it describes, in understated but powerful fashion, the sufferings and deaths of Russian Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Already published in the Soviet Union, the book is permeated with the temperament and outlook of the average Russian. The author shows vividly how his Jewish characters lived in integrated harmony with the Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Poles and other ethnic groups in their village in the Chernigov province, and how all were united in their love of the Motherland. The narrator, looking back over a long life, describes in leisurely, conversational discourse, the love story of his parents, the lives of the large, closeknit Ivanovsky and Rakhlenko clans, their children, relations and friends. Much of the book has the charm and immediacy of a folktale and the innocence of an unpretentious family saga, but Rybakov also subtly depicts the encroachments of Soviet ideology on family and community life, and then the cataclysm of the Nazi occupation. Deceptively simple in its style and tone, the book bears witness to the quiet heroism of many people, gentiles as well as Jews, who went to their deaths with dignity. Its impact lies in the clear ring of truth that resonates in the reader's memory.
"Fiction: 'Heavy Sand'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the February 20, 1981 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1981 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 219, No. 8, February 20, 1981, p. 91.