I am writing a book about war ... I, who never liked to read military books, although in my childhood and youth this was the favourite reading of everybody.
–Svetlana Alexievich - The Unwomanly face of war - c.1985, 2017
translated into English by Richard Pevear and Larissa VolokhonskyWhen I saw this mentioned in some magazine or other I had to order it. I was vaguely aware of the Russian front during World War II, vaguely aware that women signed up and fought for Soviet Russia, but I knew very little more than that. This book is an collection of recollections of the women who fought for their motherland. Sometimes no more than a line or a paragraph, sometimes a few pages, it retells what they went through. Why they went to war, how they saw it, and what happened afterwards.
It is truly heart-breaking.
First off, war is a tragedy. To go to war is a terrible thing. To kill another human being is a terrible thing. And the Russian front was horrendous. Not only because it was war but because the losses were so enormous. Soldiers were sent to fight with no weapons, told to pick up their colleagues’ guns after they died.
There was starvation, the wounded, the dead, the torture.
And after suffering all that, to be insulted and denounced when you returned home? To have fought for an ideal only to then be betrayed by that? I can’t even imagine what some of those men and women went though. But they deserve to be remembered.
Sometimes people today are told that they are too cynical, that we don’t believe in people or states or religions like people used to. I think that is because history has taught us well, the “great man” is just a power hungry politician. The “great motherland” is run by people who rewrite history to serve only themselves, and every sacrifice made for it can be turned into a betrayal.
People are wonderful and capable of so many great, kind, thoughtful deeds. People are also horrible, capable of so much violence and death. This book perfectly encapsulates both those ideas.