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This book is a confession, a document and a record of people's memory. More than 200 women speak in it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also This book is a confession, a document and a record of people's memory. More than 200 women speak in it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also fired a sniper's rifle, blew up bridges, went reconnoitering and killed... They killed the enemy who, with unprecedented cruelty, had attacked their land, their homes and their children. Soviet writer of Belarussia, Svetlana Alexiyevich spent four years working on the book, visiting over 100 cities and towns, settlements and villages and recording the stories and reminiscences of women war veterans. The Soviet press called the book"a vivid reporting of events long past, which affected the destiny of the nation as a whole." The most important thing about the book is not so much the front-line episodes as women's heart-rending experiences in the war. Through their testimony the past makes an impassioned appeal to the present, denouncing yesterday's and today's fascism...


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This book is a confession, a document and a record of people's memory. More than 200 women speak in it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also This book is a confession, a document and a record of people's memory. More than 200 women speak in it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also fired a sniper's rifle, blew up bridges, went reconnoitering and killed... They killed the enemy who, with unprecedented cruelty, had attacked their land, their homes and their children. Soviet writer of Belarussia, Svetlana Alexiyevich spent four years working on the book, visiting over 100 cities and towns, settlements and villages and recording the stories and reminiscences of women war veterans. The Soviet press called the book"a vivid reporting of events long past, which affected the destiny of the nation as a whole." The most important thing about the book is not so much the front-line episodes as women's heart-rending experiences in the war. Through their testimony the past makes an impassioned appeal to the present, denouncing yesterday's and today's fascism...

30 review for War's Unwomanly Face

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    У войны не женское лицо = The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Aleksievich Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich (born 31 May 1948) is a Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who writes in Russian. She was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه نوامبر سال 2016 میلادی عنوان: جنگ چهره زنانه ندارد؛ نویسنده: سوتلانا ا У войны не женское лицо = The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Aleksievich Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich (born 31 May 1948) is a Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who writes in Russian. She was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه نوامبر سال 2016 میلادی عنوان: جنگ چهره زنانه ندارد؛ نویسنده: سوتلانا الکسیویچ؛ مترجم: عبدالمجید احمدی؛ تهران، نشر چشمه، 1394؛ در 264ص؛ شابک 9786002296634؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان روسیه و بلاروس - سده 20م سوتلانا الکسيويچ (زادروز سی و یکم ماه می سال 1948میلادی) نخستين نويسنده‌ ی تاريخ هستند، که به خاطرِ نوشته‌ هاشان، در ژانر مستندنگاری جايزه‌ ی ادبی نوبل را، از آن خود کرده است.؛ «جنگ چهره‌ ی زنانه ندارد»، روايتِ پُرفراز و نشيب اين مستندنگارِ بلاروس است، از روزگار جنگ جهانگیر دوم، و خاطراتِ زنانیکه در ارتشِ اتحاد جماهير شوروی، در آن جنگ جهانیان جنگيدند، و حالا پس از سال‌ها، از کابوس‌ها، تنهايی، و هول‌ و هراسهاهای‌ خویش می‌گويند.؛ نویسنده ی پژوهشگر، چندصد نفر از اين زنان را می‌يابند، و با همه ی آنها گفتگو می‌کنند.؛ از هر قشری که بودند و هستند «پرستار»، «تک‌ تيرانداز»، «خلبان»، «رخت‌شوی»، «پارتيزان»، «بی‌سيم‌چی» و...؛ و خاطرات تکان‌دهنده‌ هستند...؛ زنانی که پوتين پوشيدند، و در ترکيبِ خاک و خون و ترس، زنده ماندند...؛ «الکسيويچ» با تدوين اين آدم‌ها در کنارِ هم، کليتی می‌سازند «متناقض»، «شورانگيز»، «پُرهياهو»، و «ساکت»؛ ...؛ کتاب، گاه چنان لحظاتی دارد، که فراتر از خوانده‌ ها، و شنيده‌ های مرسوم، درباره‌ ی جنگ، و بی‌ پرده، و عريان است.؛ ایشان ناگهان مادری را نشان می‌دهند، که برای عبور از خط بازرسی آلمانی‌ها، بچه‌ اش را نمک‌ اندود می‌کند، تا بچه تب کند، و سربازان از «تیفوس» بهراسند، تا او بتواند، در قنداق بچه‌ ی گريان، با پوست ملتهب سرخ‌ شده، برای پارتيزان‌ها دارو ببرد، ...؛ و اين کتابِ یادمانهای چنين و چنان انسانهايی ست تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 22/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nataliya

    We usually think of wars as something that men do. Boys play with toy soldiers and toy guns, and play with real things when they get older, right? But women have been fighting in wars throughout history. We just don't know their stories. We know the stories of men. The women remain in the background, mostly silent, occasionally telling the stories of the war from the accepted 'manly' perspective. Until now. "Everything that we know about the war we were told by men. We are the prisoners of "manly We usually think of wars as something that men do. Boys play with toy soldiers and toy guns, and play with real things when they get older, right? But women have been fighting in wars throughout history. We just don't know their stories. We know the stories of men. The women remain in the background, mostly silent, occasionally telling the stories of the war from the accepted 'manly' perspective. Until now. "Everything that we know about the war we were told by men. We are the prisoners of "manly" impressions and "manly" experiences of war. "Manly" words. Women always remain silent, and if they suddenly begin to speak they tell not about their war but the war of others. Adjust to the language that is not theirs. Adjust to the unbreakable canon of men[...] We think we know everything about the war. But listening to these women - from villages and cities, simple and educated, those who saved the wounded and those who wounded the others - I can attest that this is not true. A big misconception. There is another war, unfamiliar to us. I want to write the story of that war. The story of women's war... "Svetlana Alexievich, the journalist who brought us the books of witness accounts of Chernobyl nuclear explosion and stories of children who lived through the World War II brings us the true accounts of women who fought in the Great Patriotic War between the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany. This is a sad and often terrifying account of the war that was also fought by women in the midst of men, in the world that was not prepared for women soldiers. And, as though in defiance of the common dismissal of women's "feelings" and "lack of objectivity" this book focuses exactly on that - the feelings and colors and smells and all the other (often dismissed as trite) things that create the fabric of our experience of the world instead of battles and strategic planning. It brings the "women's war" to the long-overdue forefront. "At the age of nineteen I had a medal "For courage". At the age of nineteeen, my hair turned grey. At the age of nineteen in my last battle I was shot through both lungs, the bullet went in between two vertebrae. My legs were paralysed... They thought I was dead... At the age of nineteen... My granddaughter is this age now. I look at her in disbelief. Such a child!" What I found unbelievably sad was the reluctance of many of these women to talk about what happened. While their fathers and husbands and brothers were proud of their veteran status, flaunting medals and stories about battles, most of these women preferred to stay in the background, acting like good wives and mothers, avoiding painful memories of having lived the "unwomanly" lives for the war years. Unwomanly lives. That's the perception. That's often the stigma they had to face. "We're walking... About 200 girls, and behind us 200 men. It's hot. The summer is hot. And we have to walk 30 kilometers. Thirty! The heat is terrible... And behind us there are red stains on the sand... Red stains... Well, our women's thing, you know... How could we hide that? The soldiers follow us and pretend that they don't see it. They are not looking at the ground..."The things that men did not have to face when they joined the troops was the lack of basics. Like having to wear size 43 boots when you wore size 35, falling out of shoes and having too-big shoes fill with blood from blisters. Like uniforms not coming with bras. Like having to wear men's underwear that you were falling out of. Like having your menstrual period in the middle of long marches. Like being sexually harassed (not all of course; there seem to have been way more camaraderie and support on the front lines, but the ugliness was still there). Like being pregnant and fighting battles. Like being treated as inferior and incompetent because of your gender. Like having to drown your newborn child so that the baby's cries would not disclose the location of your partisan troop to the surrounding Germans."Somebody betrayed us... The Germans learned the location of our partisan troop. They surrounded the forest from all sides. We were hiding in the deep woods, hiding in the swamps where the torturers did not go [...] A radio operator was with us. She gave birth recently. The baby was hungry... Wanting the breast... But the mother is starving, she has no milk, and the baby is crying. The Germans are nearby... With dogs... If the dogs hear the baby, we're all dead. All of us - thirty people... Do you understand? We make a decision... Nobody dares to tell her the commader's order, but the mother guesses it herself. She puts the bundle with the baby into the water and holds it there for a long time... The baby does not cry... Not a sound... And we cannot lift our eyes. We cannot look at the mother or at each other..."Men, unlike these brave women, did not have to face the scalding social opinion. The thought that the only reason you went to the battlefields was because you were a whore who wanted male attention, who wanted to steal male soldiers from their spouses. The common attitude towards the women who came back from the battlefields as 'ruined', 'sluts', not-quite-women. The desire of men who have fought a war alongside of you and treated you like a comrade to date and marry somebody else, somebody not like you, not tainted by war, somebody girly and flighty and innocent while you were nothing but a painful reminder of things they wanted to forget. The pressure from your husbands to not "mess up" telling the war stories, to tell them to the journalist in the "proper", "manly" way, without all that "girly" stuff that would, of course, shame the manly husbands."After my insistent requests [the husband] reluctantly gave up the spotlight with the words [to his wife], "Tell everything the way I taught you. Without tears and girly insignificant stuff: I wanted to be beautiful, I cried when they cut off my hair". Later, she confessed to me, whispering, "All night, he was studying the 'History of the Great Patriotic War' with me. He was worried about me. And he's afraid now that I will remember the wrong thing. That I will tell it not the way I'm supposed to." This happened many times, in many different homes. Yes, they cry a lot. They scream. After I leave, they swallow their heart pills. Call the ambulance. But they keep asking me, "Please, come. Definitely come. We've been silent for so long. We were silent for forty years..." And yet, despite the horror, despite everything, these young women chose to fight for their country, for their loved ones, for their future. They chose to leave behind their parents, their siblings, their spouses and children ("For the entire last night I was kneeling by the baby's crib...") to fight the war. Making it the women's war. And these are the stories I want to remember for the rest of my life. "When the war was over, I wished for three things: first - I finally will not have to crawl around on my belly but will ride in a trolleybus, second - to buy and eat an entire loaf of white bread, and third - to sleep in a white bed, on crispy sheets. White sheets..."These are the chilling stories of women who did what they thought of as their duty despite the pain and humiliations and reluctance and negative judgment, and survived to tell about it. These are the stories that made me tear up quite a few times and put the book down as I stared at the wall trying to wrap my head around the horror I just read. I recommend it to everybody in this world that seems to jump to wars so easily without realizing the enormous cost of it. These are the stories that the Soviet censors were extremely reluctant to send to print. 5 heartbreaking stars. ----------------------------- Today, June 22nd, is the 61st anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic war between the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany. It's a sad day.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    For the first time, Nobel Prize winning author Svetlana Alexievich's award winning first book The Unwomanly Face of War is available in English. Over the course of twenty six grueling years, Alexievich interviewed female veterans of World War II. Unlike their American counterparts who played their part in the war effort at home, Soviet women gave up their lives for the Motherland and Stalin and enlisted to fight on the front lines. Yet, rather than returning home as war heroes, the women were of For the first time, Nobel Prize winning author Svetlana Alexievich's award winning first book The Unwomanly Face of War is available in English. Over the course of twenty six grueling years, Alexievich interviewed female veterans of World War II. Unlike their American counterparts who played their part in the war effort at home, Soviet women gave up their lives for the Motherland and Stalin and enlisted to fight on the front lines. Yet, rather than returning home as war heroes, the women were oftentimes denounced as unladylike and not marriageable material. For years they kept quiet until Alexievich came with her tape recorder to interview them. This book is the culmination of her work with interviews of hundreds of women who broke the silence and finally became known as war heroes to the world. Following Stalin's Great Purge of 1937, millions of Soviets were sent to gulags and other forced labor camps. Over the course of his reign as Soviet premier, Stalin was said to have murdered 30 million of his own people. This number could have been even higher due to the silence of many who feared that they too would be labeled as enemies of the state. As a result, when the war against Germany began in 1941, there was a shortage of men to fight. Teenagers as young as fourteen in some cases were enlisted into the army but this still was not enough. Girls who had been members of the Konsomol, the Soviet pioneers much like Girl Scouts, for their entire lives begged their parents to let them go to the front and play their role in defending Mother Russia. In some instances there were no boys in the family, and girls as young as fourteen and fifteen left for the front in situations as dangerous as those faced by their male counterparts. Yet, these girls fought valiantly because they viewed it as an honor to fight for the Motherland and for Stalin and a disgrace to stay home, even if in many cases they were not honored as much as the men. Major obstacles faced the women fighters. The first is that, especially in the case of squadron leaders and pilots and any other position of authority, men did not take them seriously, at least at first. Even if the girls had to cut off their braids and wear the same khaki colored trousers as men, they were still girls, and sometimes the only girls these men would see for months at a time. Only after demonstrating their worth in the field of battle, were these girls deemed as worthy leaders. Additionally, girls left school to fight. They were to have become doctors, engineers, teachers, and other leading professions, but gave up everything to fight. When the war ended, these girls were either too wounded to work or they got married, many times to men that they met at the front, and started families rather than pursue professions. Some of the veterans were too emotionally scarred by their experiences to work anywhere other than menial labor in factories or typing corps. And many of the veterans were also too emotionally scarred to wear their medals on Victory Day and be lauded for their achievements. Yet, these women fought in the trenches alongside men and do not deserve to keep their experiences silent. Alexievich was exiled many years in western Europe because much of her writing denounced the Soviet government. Her interviews brought back many painful experiences for the women war veterans, yet Alexievich desired to have this era of history known to the world. Often, her interview subjects broke down in tears. Many left their children with relatives to fight, returned as widows or to severely wounded husbands, became prematurely gray, and were unable to have children. They became desensitized to death yet could not see blood or anything red for years after the war. A few noted that they could not even cook chicken and made their husbands to do so because the bird remembered the human flesh that they wanted so desperately to forget. Many times her subjects asked to remain anonymous because even after forty or more years they did not want to be known as war girls, but as women, women who were loved rather than endured a man's war. I would be remiss if I did not laud the translation of the award winning team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I read their translation of Anna Karenina earlier this year and found it to be excellent and even fast moving for a book of its size. The team won the PEN Translation Prize for it and also for The Brothers Karamazov and should merit another award here. To translate the words of many subjects and stay true to their words and to do so seamlessly should put this duo in consideration for another well deserving merit. While I have noted in previous reviews that I have a personal challenge to read Pulitzer winners, I also try to read a number of Nobel Prize winners each year as well. These books are either groundbreaking or have told the world a previously unknown important story. Svetlana Alexievich has been so lauded for her work here and rightfully so. Telling the story of women war heroes who chose so long to be silent and to be exiled for her efforts makes Alexievich award worthy. I found this to be a tough read as I had to live the horrors of war that these heroes had chosen for so long to forget. The book itself is accessible yet not the easiest of reads as I often read a section and put it down to defuse the tension. Nonetheless, The Unwomanly Face of War is a necessary book and one that will most likely win awards this year. I am glad that I read it despite the rawness and rate this award winning book 4+ stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    İntellecta

    Svetlana Alexievich also lets the victims or heroes speak here again. The emotional portrayal of many women who went to war for love of "fatherland" is impressive and frightening. Anyone who believes in sympathy with the Soviet soldiers of World War II, the horror of entering the war, and the inability of society to accept the return of women as normal women will not want to leave this book out of their hands.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    My specialty... My speciality is men's haircuts... A girl comes... I don't know how to cut her hair. She has luxuriant wavy hair. The commander enters the dugout. "Give her a man's haircut." "But she's a woman." "No, she's a soldier. She'll be a woman again after the war." In the West we often think of women's role in WWII as being in the factories. The Rosie the Riveter movement of helping make all the supplies for the men out on the front. However, in the Soviet Union, almost one million women enl My specialty... My speciality is men's haircuts... A girl comes... I don't know how to cut her hair. She has luxuriant wavy hair. The commander enters the dugout. "Give her a man's haircut." "But she's a woman." "No, she's a soldier. She'll be a woman again after the war." In the West we often think of women's role in WWII as being in the factories. The Rosie the Riveter movement of helping make all the supplies for the men out on the front. However, in the Soviet Union, almost one million women enlisted in the army and fought alongside the men. Whilst most were stationed in medical units, thousands of women acted as snipers, pilots, tank drivers, and even captains between 1941 and 1945. The majority of these women were aged between 16 and 21. 40 years after the war had finished, Svetlana Alexievich recorded their stories. This book was the result. As is Alexievich's style, this book is made up of hundreds of interviews. Judging by the few times that Alexievich herself speaks, this book must be only a minuscule fraction of all the interviews that she conducted in the 1980s. Women's role in the war had effectively been erased from the official history of the war by the post-war Soviet governments so when Alexievich does meet with these women, they are more than ready to talk. And very rarely do they hold back. This is one of the most devastating and harrowing works of non-fiction that I have ever read. What these women saw, what they experienced, was truly horrific. One common phenomenon that many of the women talk about is how their hair went completely grey by the end of the war. These were women in their early 20s. Others discuss how they could possibly ever give birth after experiencing so much death. One woman talks about how a man could lose every single limb but still find the love of his life, but if a woman received so much as a single scar on her face she would be relegated to spinsterhood forever. There are many instances where women refused to talk to Alexievich, stating that they have spent their lives forgetting the war. However, other women comment that the happiest days of their lives were during the war. Every interview is incredibly personal but each woman is connected by what they went through. This book is difficult to get through, both content-wise and structure-wise. Every page is another distressing account of the war. Sometimes there may be three short passages to a single page. The sheer amount of content is overwhelming and can sometimes leave you completely drained. Which is probably how you should feel. The Unwomanly Face of War is a perfect example of why Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The sheer amount of research that this must have taken. You feel somewhat sorry for Alexievich in hindsight, she often talks of carrying around her tape recorder and bags of tapes from interviewee to interviewee. Thousands of tapes. And having to transcribe them all. I'm sure the invention of smartphones was something of a godsend to her. This book is never an easy read but it is an eye-opening account of a somewhat forgotten part of history, as told by the women who lived it. Alexievich has written a book that should be absolute required reading for anyone interested in the Second World War.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    World War II, the Germans are marching toward Moscow. Men and boys have answered the call to defend the Motherland. War was life...but surprisingly, teenage girls and young women signed up to go to the front. Women served as snipers, traffic controllers, medical assistants, surgeons, anti-aircraft gunners and sappers to name a few wartime jobs. They were doggedly determined to fight for Russia, often insisting on being in the front lines. Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich "...brings together a World War II, the Germans are marching toward Moscow. Men and boys have answered the call to defend the Motherland. War was life...but surprisingly, teenage girls and young women signed up to go to the front. Women served as snipers, traffic controllers, medical assistants, surgeons, anti-aircraft gunners and sappers to name a few wartime jobs. They were doggedly determined to fight for Russia, often insisting on being in the front lines. Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich "...brings together a chorus of voices..." after conducting countless interviews with ordinary women who displayed bravery, courage, and fortitude in the face of war. Women were forced to ponder the fine line between humanity and inhumanity. What was the difference between death and murder? The solitary face of death was ever present for each woman. Personal stories and ruminations were provided by two hundred women, gathered by the author from 1978-1985, providing a women's perspective of World War II. A woman, graduating from sniper school was ready for a day of "hunting". The enemy was still a human being. Her hands trembled. She had to get used to the thought of it! Another sniper, marching past human bones at a burned out settlement was ready to kill, no longer pitying the enemy. The enemy has rounded up villagers in a school and doused the building with kerosene. It was necessary to obtain medical supplies, bandages and serums. Who could get through enemy lines?Maria, a partisan hiding in the forest, had recently given birth to a baby daughter. Maria rubbed salt on her baby to give her a rash, swaddled her on her back and approaching German guards quietly stated that her daughter had typhus. She was allowed to quickly pass. After securing the supplies, Maria entered the forest and weep for hurting her baby. An elderly woman found another way to resist. Every day, she opened her window and practiced throwing water out with a dipper, each time improving her aim and distance. The rationale...if the enemy comes to Leningrad, she would scald them with boiling water. Despite the sacrifices made by women, including the ultimate sacrifice by many, women were not given their due after the war. Men considered these fierce fighters to be comrades only. Upon returning to civilian life, male soldiers wanted to meet carefree girls, not unfeminine women who fought next to them in the trenches. In "The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II" by Svetlana Alexievich, two hundred women were given a platform to finally break their silence. Their chilling and emotional memories, need and deserve to be heard. Thank you Random House and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Unwomanly Face of War".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    This author tackles the personal cost of war on woman, those who served and those who were civilians during the second world war. These personal accounts, some just paragraphs, some a few pages, but all heartfelt and heartbreaking. We have read many books, fiction and non that chronicle men's experiences and after effects, but very few women. Ordinary women I should say, who were living normal lives but feeling compelled or just caught up in the tangled and long reaching call to war. The author This author tackles the personal cost of war on woman, those who served and those who were civilians during the second world war. These personal accounts, some just paragraphs, some a few pages, but all heartfelt and heartbreaking. We have read many books, fiction and non that chronicle men's experiences and after effects, but very few women. Ordinary women I should say, who were living normal lives but feeling compelled or just caught up in the tangled and long reaching call to war. The author states her reasons for writing this book in her forward, this is actually a re-release, published for the first time, I believe in the 80's. I of course knew that women served as nurses, ambulance drivers, but never knew there were a group of women snipers. We hear how difficult their first kill was, and how they changed because of this act. Their experiences when they were no longer serving, integrating back into society. How they were perceived by men, and society in general. As the author states, women perceive their experiences differently than men do, she wanted to highlight this , and bring it to the attention of the public. Some wanted to talk, some said little, wanting simply to forget. Some parts of this was difficult to read, some sad, some frustrating and reading a few I got angry. All these thing women did, went through, and never had it acknowledged, pitiful and shameful. Thanks to this author, at least some of us will read about them now. ARC from publisher.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    There are more stories to tell than then those of famous men.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    This was not the Alexievich book that I was looking for, alerted by several reviews on GR I was on the lookout for Secondhand Time or maybe her book on Chernobyl. Then again beggars can't be choosers as the saying goes and this was the book of her's that the library did have (Alec Guinness was not involved in my change of mind at all), in the run up to the D-day commemorations I heard various TV presenters speaking about the liberation of Europe - I noticed myself observing that as long suspecte This was not the Alexievich book that I was looking for, alerted by several reviews on GR I was on the lookout for Secondhand Time or maybe her book on Chernobyl. Then again beggars can't be choosers as the saying goes and this was the book of her's that the library did have (Alec Guinness was not involved in my change of mind at all), in the run up to the D-day commemorations I heard various TV presenters speaking about the liberation of Europe - I noticed myself observing that as long suspected Poland and Italy are not part of Europe - and so as happens the human brain is very adapt at finding reasons for why what you are going to do is an appropriate course of action I was reconciled to reading Alexievich's book about Soviet women in the Red Army during WWII. harrowing, amazing, misleading, mesmerising are all suitable words for describing this book selected from interviews carried out by Alexievich from 1978 until possibly 2002 - an edition was published in 1985, if this 2017 translation is based on a later edition I don't know but in the introduction she discusses things that she self censored and things that the censors rejected. As she notes in her introduction you have glastnost' in the middle of that span of compiling and a little later the end of the Soviet Union - both of which may have impacted upon the kinds of stories that her contributors might have told her - one the themes is the formal permitted narrative of the war and how the womens' stories did not fit into that formal narrative - several of the veterans discuss being coached by their husbands about what they should say to Alexievich. Alexievich decides that she wants to capture the range of roles undertaken by women in the red Army so there is a woman from a laundry unit, nurses, doctors, snipers, sappers, pilots, one sailor, those who served in the artillery and in tank units, many partisans, some in infantry units, others in Cossack cavalry detachments - all front line roles. It is all very interesting, but misleading in that we never know how typical or unusual these women were. The arrangement is roughly chronological, the earlier pieces often deal with recruitment or the difficulties of getting recruited and assigned to front line roles - there does not seem to have been any consistent policy, some fairly accidentally drift into combat units, others deliberately and with determination work their way in, while at the end of the book come recollections of reaching Berlin and their reception back home and peace time lives. Alexievich wanted to write a book about war which would be an anti-war book, and perhaps it is, it certainly is pitiless and bloody, some of the women are open about how - unsurprisingly - the experiences continued to affect them. There are only a couple of mentions of looting, fewer of abuse of civilians or sexual molestation of the women themselves - only one I think mentions being an officer's mistress, all issues that would not and do not fit into permitted war time narratives - at least not for the victors. I notice a lot of chatter about role models and people wanting, perhaps even needing (or thinking that they need) role models like them, yet in this selection only one of the women explicitly mentioned a female role model in the military, for the rest a desire to serve (and many were in the communist youth movement the Komsomol, and so more motivated and open to messages from the government and Party) or simple blood lust - wishing for vengeance, particularly for fathers, seems to have been sufficient motivation for them at ages between 16 and 18 to insist, trick, or persuade others to allow them into frontline positions, I suspected that those who were in combat roles perhaps faired better psychologically than those in medical roles who saw combat but participated only by carrying out the bodies and patching them up as best they could - not always even being able to distinguish the Russians from Germans. One of the snipers was most bothered by having shot a colt for the cookpot, battle was easier to deal with. While the young women were prepared to serve and to fight, society more broadly was not necessarily able to cope with that - in the book some of the women discuss the hostility they experienced after the war. Also although the revolutionary ethos of the state was enough to - in some cases only with reluctance - integrate women into combat units, in practical terms the military were unprepared for women - a consistent problem across many accounts is that there were no women's uniforms for the first couple of years - a serious problem for the feet, also there was no provision for menstruation - one woman coped by stealing bits of uniform to rip up into rags, this may have been semi-accidental one woman going into action spotting blood on her trousers assumed she had been injured, luckily the medic was able to explain the facts of life to her leaving me with the suspicion that the female reproductive system was sufficiently a taboo subject that officaly it was not catered for, each woman had to manage as best she could. I wondered reading how this poor country - poor before the war and hardly enriched by four years of very destructive warfare coped particularly with the numbers of soldiers who were left disabled after the war, I imagined them being left to drink themselves to death by the mid 1950s. One of the partisans talks of the postwar period with no husband (and perhaps worse) no horse ("two legs bad, four legs good") and having to plant crops and bring up her children and at the same time some of these soldiers, little more than children, having to cope with their experiences and to reactions to them in the context of a poor ruined country. A powerful book, vivid.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This is riveting. I hated every time I had to stop to do something else. It is what I am looking for every time I pick up a book about war. Are women perhaps better at baring their souls, expressing emotions and revealing their innermost thoughts? The book seems to prove this. EVERYBODY should read this, men and women alike. It is an important book. A book about war - all wars. This is a difficult book to read because it captures emotions. It shows man at his lowest, but also love and generosity a This is riveting. I hated every time I had to stop to do something else. It is what I am looking for every time I pick up a book about war. Are women perhaps better at baring their souls, expressing emotions and revealing their innermost thoughts? The book seems to prove this. EVERYBODY should read this, men and women alike. It is an important book. A book about war - all wars. This is a difficult book to read because it captures emotions. It shows man at his lowest, but also love and generosity and kindness. The women speak from their hearts. Over 200 women have been interviewed. All were soldiers in the war, but with widely varying positions - snipers, laundresses, nurses, doctors, foot soldiers, telephone operators. We hear what they have to say about their experiences during and after the Great Patriotic War. What we are told is extremely personal. * Don't worry, as I did, about the fact that hundreds of people speak. Each of them has something important to say. * I liked the author's book Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, but this book, War's Unwomanly Face, is in an entirely different class. It is exceptional. The audiobook is primarily narrated by two women - Julia Emelin and and Yelena Shmulenson. Two men carry a smaller part. The narration is fantastic. The Russian dialect is strong and the grammar is not perfect. This is just how it should be. You feel the interviewees emotions. I believe the emotions come through better by listening rather than reading. I am glad I chose the audiobook. This book will become a classic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bjorn

    "I want you to know that they stole victory from us." As always with Alexievich, it's made up of individual stories, lots of little moments of history. She who followed her husband into war because they couldn't bear to be apart, and fought at his side until he fell. We held our wedding in a trench, right before a battle. I made myself a white dress from a German parachute. She whose fellow male soldiers had to explain to their superiors why they needed more t-shirts, the female soldiers had stolen "I want you to know that they stole victory from us." As always with Alexievich, it's made up of individual stories, lots of little moments of history. She who followed her husband into war because they couldn't bear to be apart, and fought at his side until he fell. We held our wedding in a trench, right before a battle. I made myself a white dress from a German parachute. She whose fellow male soldiers had to explain to their superiors why they needed more t-shirts, the female soldiers had stolen theirs and ripped them up. Why? Why on earth would female soldiers need extra rations of cotton once a month? Um... well, see, Lieutenant... She who had an abortion to be able to go to war, and avenged her unborn child with every German she killed. She who returned from the war, only to realise her own mother didn't recognize her. She who returned home and was cast out as a whore, because everyone knows what women do at the front. She who returned home and only found a mass grave where there'd been a village and had to dig through rotting corpses to find her family. When I returned from the front, my sister showed me a grave ... They'd buried me. She who saw her fellow soldiers rape their way through Germany and many years later still didn't know how she felt about it after what the Nazis did to her own family. She who always carried two extra bullets because she knew the enemy considered female soldiers spoils of war. They'd impaled her on a stake ... The frost had come, and she was all white and her hair grey. She was nineteen. In her backpack we found letters from home and a green rubber bird. A toy. She who let her seven-year-old daughter carry a bomb inside the German HQ in a food basket. And on and on and on, the ones who 40 years later tell a journalist what happened to them, and often begin with some variation on "My husband told me to just talk about troop movements and bravery, so you're probably not interested in what I have to say, but is it OK if I just talk a bit about how it feels to go to war?" She who listens, takes notes, passes along, tries to get them to tell their own stories and not just repeat the same old Great Patriotic War heroisms. In the late 70s, Svetlana Alexievich started travelling the Soviet Union, interviewing a few hundred of the millions of women who took part in WWII. Yes, they were there, even if their story had never been told; farmer's daughters, schoolgirls and wives who more or less voluntarily served as nurses, cooks, sharpshooters, infantry soldiers, pilots, engineers, telegraphists... Only to return home and, best case scenario, were told "There, honey, now don't worry your pretty head about that nasty business again, go sit down and take care of your man like a proper woman if you still remember how after wearing pants for so long." Who've carried it all for 40 years without anyone asking about it. Taken one by one, the stories become little novellas spanning from the prosaic ("Four years in men's underwear!") to the deeply tragic. When Alexievich puts them all together, they become something entirely different, a choir of voices, often identified only by first name and rank, finally telling what they went through during one of the bloodiest wars in history, and of the other war they've had to live with since. Superior officers who hide behind chivalry and protectiveness so they don't have to treat them as equals, fellow soldiers who admit that yeah, she's almost as good as a man and I owe her my life, but who wants a wife who's almost a man?, a society that expects them to make sacrifices with no thought of reward or recognition while the men who do the same thing are treated as heroes. The complete edition of the book adds another layer by including and noting the sections that were excised in the 80s, including the censor's comments on why they must be stricken. Only now, when most of the participants are dead, do they get to speak freely. In a Soviet society where everyone was equal, the great patriar... sorry, patriotic war couldn't be presented as womanlike twaddle about feelings, that would imply that something had been excluded from the official story. No, the esteemed censor becomes downright offended on behalf of the poor old women who don't know when to keep their mouths shut. Who'd be prepared to fight a war after reading something like that? Your primitive naturalism is a slap in the face of womankind. And of the female war heroes. You dethrone them. Turn them into ordinary women, into bitches. They must be held sacred. Which I guess is a rave review as good as any.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I'm hard-pressed to think of another book that left me this humbled, and also questioning the biases and blindspots in my own formal education. That's a big reason why I choose to read the way I do - to take off the lenses and blinders, break down the constructs and barriers. It raises consciousness to read a book like this one. Alexeivich's polyphonic approach to history has been noted and awarded many times over. These stories of Soviet women during WWII were equal parts inspirational and harrow I'm hard-pressed to think of another book that left me this humbled, and also questioning the biases and blindspots in my own formal education. That's a big reason why I choose to read the way I do - to take off the lenses and blinders, break down the constructs and barriers. It raises consciousness to read a book like this one. Alexeivich's polyphonic approach to history has been noted and awarded many times over. These stories of Soviet women during WWII were equal parts inspirational and harrowing. There are hundreds of accounts here, and while some stories 'stand out', the reader is left with echos and reverberations of all of the stories - a virtual chorus - as well as the larger effects of war on culture and society. Alexeivich won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 for her body of work, one that I plan to keep exploring and learning from.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    This is a fascinating and worthy read for two specific but interconnected reasons. Primarily, it is the representation of women's stories, harrowing personal accounts from all types of women in varied military and civilian roles, individual experiences of killing and dying and hope and despair. It is gut wrenching and sickening; in one story a woman who had recently given birth was hiding in a swamp with others when the enemies closed in. The need to remain silent, to keep hidden, had her lower t This is a fascinating and worthy read for two specific but interconnected reasons. Primarily, it is the representation of women's stories, harrowing personal accounts from all types of women in varied military and civilian roles, individual experiences of killing and dying and hope and despair. It is gut wrenching and sickening; in one story a woman who had recently given birth was hiding in a swamp with others when the enemies closed in. The need to remain silent, to keep hidden, had her lower the child under the water until it was silent forever. This is the kind of choice which women faced, to bring death to someone they had given life. Each tale is told in few lines, half a page at the most, yet with those few sentences a whole world is revealed. According to a recent article in History Today (Vol 67, Issue 6), Svetlana Alexievich chose oral histories because of her disillusionment with the cold way facts could tell you what happened but were too impersonal and did not reveal the inner workings of how people really experienced the past. Being raised in the Soviet system, she was also aware of the changes to ways of thinking and writing about the past during Gorbachev's glasnost, when propagandist and narrowly defined ways of looking at the Revolution, War, and later Communism were opened to scrutiny; the 'facts' of the past were revealed to be anything but. Of course, oral history has its own issues, but Alexievich's desire for the inclusion of sidelined or excluded voices is both important and necessary. The second role of the book is as a piece of history in itself. The first edition of the book was heavily edited and censored because the stories within it did not fit the idealised narrative of the Soviet state. They weren't heroic enough, said the wrong thing, or revealed the worst side of war. Whatever the reason, they weren't to be shared with the wider public, they were to be hidden, denied, or ignored. In this newer version, the notes of the censors are included, as are sections that Alexievich herself had edited out. So now we have an even greater picture than the first book could have aspired to; the original stories as retold by individuals as far as they remember or want to tell, as well as the selective removal of sections and the notes explaining why (reflecting contemporary concerns), the interpretation and re-editing of the author according to changed modern sensibilities, and now our own reading and responses to the layered text. It is brilliantly done. This book is a challenging and upsetting read, but if humanity continues to make war, then we should have the courage to hear the stories of all those who are forced into its orbit. ARC via Netgalley

  14. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “There can't be one heart for hatred and another for love. We only have one, and I always thought about how to save my heart.” ― Svetlana Alexievich, War's Unwomanly Face Amazing on several levels. Through a chorus of female voices Alexievich brings a new set of eyes to World War II. The experience of Russian women, who fought as snipers, partisans, cooks, engineers, nurses, sappers, etc., during World War II paints the war (and all war) with a humanity and an emotional palette that seldom gets u “There can't be one heart for hatred and another for love. We only have one, and I always thought about how to save my heart.” ― Svetlana Alexievich, War's Unwomanly Face Amazing on several levels. Through a chorus of female voices Alexievich brings a new set of eyes to World War II. The experience of Russian women, who fought as snipers, partisans, cooks, engineers, nurses, sappers, etc., during World War II paints the war (and all war) with a humanity and an emotional palette that seldom gets used when covering war. Amazing. This book was originally published in 1985 under Glasnost. In the preface to this edition (and the preface is one of the best parts of a great book) Alexivich includes sections that she originally self-censored AND parts that were originally cut by Soviet sensors (as well as their comments). This 2017 English version was translated by Pevear & Volonkonsky, the married Russian translation powerhouse famous for their translations of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, Alexivich is interested not in big dates, big events, big players. She is interested in the female experience. Her narrative style combines many voices thematically from chapter to chapter (roughly as WWII progresses) to deal with leaving to war, fighting in war, and returning home. Occasionally, she will spend an extended amount of time with a particular sniper, nurse, or tanker whose narrative is fantastically compelling and seems to capture the spirit of those women. But mostly, she is happy to thread these multiple stories together into a narrative quilt that covers not only the female experience of war, but arguably humanity's experience, but the emotional experience that often gets left out of typical "big man" or "big event" histories.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecka

    English title: War's Unwomanly Face. This is really a book everyone should read. If not all of it (considering it is pretty long), then at least parts of it. Not only is it the Second World War from a Soviet point of view, it's from Soviet women's point of view. How many people even know that 800.000 Soviet women went to war in WW2? Of course they deserve a book, and it's one of the most interesting and definitely one of the saddest I've read in a long while. Soviet women didn't go to war because English title: War's Unwomanly Face. This is really a book everyone should read. If not all of it (considering it is pretty long), then at least parts of it. Not only is it the Second World War from a Soviet point of view, it's from Soviet women's point of view. How many people even know that 800.000 Soviet women went to war in WW2? Of course they deserve a book, and it's one of the most interesting and definitely one of the saddest I've read in a long while. Soviet women didn't go to war because they were forced to do so. Quite to the contrary, many of them actually had to force their way into the army, through trickery, tears or by just showing up and giving the administration no option. Some of them were as young as 16, and they didn't just serve as nurses, doctors and cooks, they really played all possible roles during the war. In her book, Alekseyevich has included accounts from ALL of these various military professions, they are all interviews or letters, so all of it is in the words of these very women. It's very personal and powerful, and you may not want to read this in public if you're the crying kind. Snipers, commanders, bombers, mine removers, front line soldiers, tankists, everything. They were mocked, ridiculed, met disbelief, and by the end of the war, when they had earned respect among their male peers, many of them tried to conceal their war efforts in order to be more marriageable, because many did not want to have anything to do with "the girls who had been at the front" (they were most likely considered easy girls with low morals). People didn't want their sons to marry such women. The ones who remained unharmed, that is. One woman, having lost her legs, hid in hospitals for 30 years to avoid being a burden to her family. The book is also interesting in how it doesn't shy away from the fact that these are women's stories, but rather uses that as an advantage. Women remember things differently, and they remember altogether different things, and they say things that men could say, but wouldn't have said to not lose face. (The material for this book was recorded in the 80's.) One woman, a bomber, talks of how she was, later in life, asked by a doctor when she had a heart attack. She replied that she never had one, and it was then explained that the stress she endured flying and bombing in the middle of the night during the war did the same amount of damage to her heart as a heart attack. She talks of how the bombers (gender neutral) were unable to leave their airplanes when they landed - they were so terrified and stressed that they had to be carried out. Several women remember how beautiful the fascists they killed or were almost killed by were. That's a detail you wont find in a book about male soldiers. Some of these women were saved by the very fact that they were women; when the Germans saw a woman they were shocked and didn't shoot. Many tried to stay feminine, tried to be pretty or modest, even if it meant risking death. They tried to protect their faces more than anything, to not ruin their looks. On the way home from the war, they were still scared of mice. And then, once back home, judging from their stories, many started to break down. Some women talk of the things only women can do, like comfort a dying soldier, give hope with just a smile - or stand the sight of an entire room filled with cut-off limbs. (One nurse says the men just couldn't handle that.) Overall, this is a story of mind-blowing bravery and stubbornness. And it really deserves to be read. "We didn't have time to go insane. We didn't have time to cry." The author: "I left this big house with a feeling of guilt: here lives a person, about whom we should be writing books and singing songs, and we've never heard of her. And how many such people are there? All around us there's so much history that hasn't been seen, been recognized, as History." [My translations.]

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I feel like Alixievich held back, didn't ask the right questions to get the whole truth. Considering this book was first published in 1980s, I guess it's understandable she and her censors wanted an emphasis on heroism, self-sacrifice and just the horror of what Russia had to suffer through during WWII. And, believe me, this collection of personal stories illustrates the enormity of what was endured during the war like no fiction account can. And yet, even in the later edition, published in 2000 I feel like Alixievich held back, didn't ask the right questions to get the whole truth. Considering this book was first published in 1980s, I guess it's understandable she and her censors wanted an emphasis on heroism, self-sacrifice and just the horror of what Russia had to suffer through during WWII. And, believe me, this collection of personal stories illustrates the enormity of what was endured during the war like no fiction account can. And yet, even in the later edition, published in 2000s, Alexievich dared to only touch on many ugly things - the willful, criminal unpreparedness of Russia for the war, the prosecution of any soldiers who ended up in captivity, the disgusting treatment of the women who fought in the war as snipers, nurses, etc. as whores in the years after by the fellow women, the atrocities Russian soldiers inflicted on Germans in retaliation. Things that winners of wars never want to talk about. A lot of horrifying truth in this book, but not the full truth.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    Abandoning this halfway through. Sad, since it started off really well, and Svetlana is a gifted writer. But from around 25% of the way through, the stories just kept getting repetitive - and I was not getting drawn into the book. I persisted up to nearly the halfway mark, but it's just the same. Don't get me wrong - these are tremendous stories, and I take off my hat to these women for the unspeakable horrors they endured, many of them beyond the pale, yet kept their humanity intact. It is indee Abandoning this halfway through. Sad, since it started off really well, and Svetlana is a gifted writer. But from around 25% of the way through, the stories just kept getting repetitive - and I was not getting drawn into the book. I persisted up to nearly the halfway mark, but it's just the same. Don't get me wrong - these are tremendous stories, and I take off my hat to these women for the unspeakable horrors they endured, many of them beyond the pale, yet kept their humanity intact. It is indeed a different perspective when a woman looks at war. The heroism is shorn off, and we see only the ugly and the pitiable. “Women’s” war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings. Its own words. There are no heroes and incredible feats, there are simply people who are busy doing inhumanly human things. And it is not only they (people!) who suffer, but the earth, the birds, the trees. All that lives on earth with us. They suffer without words, which is still more frightening. The two stars is entirely subjective, so please feel free to try this book out for yourself.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Will

    I've never understood why so many historians, both amateur and professional, are obsessed with the intricate details of military campaigns, with the macro strategies represented by the ever shifting physical front lines drawn on political maps, with the lives of the generals removed from combat. Do they want to escape from the horrors of war, the mutilated children, the burned soldiers whose flesh drips off their bones? Would they rather have it be all neat and pretty? I think they're deluding t I've never understood why so many historians, both amateur and professional, are obsessed with the intricate details of military campaigns, with the macro strategies represented by the ever shifting physical front lines drawn on political maps, with the lives of the generals removed from combat. Do they want to escape from the horrors of war, the mutilated children, the burned soldiers whose flesh drips off their bones? Would they rather have it be all neat and pretty? I think they're deluding themselves, and so does Svetlana Alexievich. It's definitely easier to hide behind the lines on the map and obsess over the tiny differences between makes of aircraft, machine guns, and tanks. But The Unwomanly Face of War is a rare rejection of the dominant war narratives. Alexievich masterfully collects the testimony of hundreds of women who fought for the Soviet Union in the Second World War: nurses, snipers, sappers, surgeons, and partisans. Their strikingly female voices bring a fresh, newly horrifying perspective that challenges the common narrative of the Second World War as the "last great war" fought by the "greatest generation." For these women, war was death. Even the survivors never recovered. There is beauty in war, but it's not the sleek elegance of death machines or battlefields strewn with dramatically posed bodies, as we see in our most famous works of war art. Instead, it's the silent shock following a gruesome battle when you realize you're still alive. It's singing childhood songs to dying soldiers, lying with their entrails splattered in the snow. It's sacrificing your body, your mind, everything for your family and your country. It's sparing your most hated enemies when you finally have the power to exact your darkest fantasies on their vulnerable bodies. The beauty of war negates war itself; it embraces the fleeting moments of peace and mercy within the boundless carnage. After returning home, many women veterans were mocked, deemed "unwomanly," excised from the memories of their pre-war friends, and told to forget about the war, become "ladies" again, get married, have kids, be "normal." Imagine if you witnessed thousands of corpses steaming on the battlefield, buckets of limbs in hospital operating rooms, watched melting men flee burning tanks and bayonet each other in the dark. Imagine smelling blood everywhere for ten years, suffering from rashes whenever you see meat or the color red. Then imagine your best friend telling you to just "forget it all, be normal." Then imagine trying to have sex or give birth. The stories and pain of these women eviscerate any valorization of war. In one book, these women veterans have completely destroyed the arguments of generations of war hawks. Even though they defended their country against savage invaders with a penchant for bloodlust and yearned for victory every day, they still refuse to look fondly back on the war. The women cry, remember fallen comrades, praise each other's dedication to the cause, but never, never praise the war. Remember that. The lessons that Alexievich teaches through her collected testimonies challenge many conventional war narratives, and for that alone, everyone should read her work.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Page 19 (my book) I follow the traces of the inner life; I make records of the soul... What happened to human beings? What did human beings see and understand there? This book didn’t deliver what it promises in the above – an introspective and feeling look at women at war in the Soviet Union during World War II. For the most part it is superficial – as in I was this age, I saw this, I did this job, … There are sometimes three to four characters presented every two to three pages. This does not all Page 19 (my book) I follow the traces of the inner life; I make records of the soul... What happened to human beings? What did human beings see and understand there? This book didn’t deliver what it promises in the above – an introspective and feeling look at women at war in the Soviet Union during World War II. For the most part it is superficial – as in I was this age, I saw this, I did this job, … There are sometimes three to four characters presented every two to three pages. This does not allow for intensity and in-depth probing. Very disappointing. Far better is Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945”. Also The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia, and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Ernie Pyle is exquisite, forthright and honest in exploring the lives of ordinary soldiers in the U.S. Army.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    The Unwomanly Face of War was written in 1985 by Svetlana Alexievich and translated to English in 2017. Alexievich. a Belarussian, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. She is noted for her works of oral history. This book came to my attention when I noticed it had one of the highest ratings on Goodreads. I was intrigued and checked it out of the local library. This book is an oral history of women who fought for the Soviet Union in WWII. During Glasnost of the 1980’s, and forty years after The Unwomanly Face of War was written in 1985 by Svetlana Alexievich and translated to English in 2017. Alexievich. a Belarussian, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. She is noted for her works of oral history. This book came to my attention when I noticed it had one of the highest ratings on Goodreads. I was intrigued and checked it out of the local library. This book is an oral history of women who fought for the Soviet Union in WWII. During Glasnost of the 1980’s, and forty years after the fact, Alexievich interviewed hundreds of these women who were soldiers, pilots, nurses and partisans. In aggregate it is a remarkable book and perhaps as insightful a war memoir that I’ve read. Nearly all of the space in the book is dedicated to the women’s first hand accounts. Here are some observations. Many of the stories are about the partisans and their horrific experiences — often in the forests evading the Germans. One woman recounts a story where she gave birth to her child in the swamp where they put down some hay. Another recounts this horror: ... Two badly burned partisans captured by the Germans were driven around the villages in a cart to see who would recognize them as their own. So that people would give themselves away. The entire village stood there, nobody made a sound. What a heart the mother must have had not to cry out. Not to call. She knew that if she began to weep, the whole village would be burned down. She wouldn’t be killed alone. Everybody would be killed. For one German killed they used to burn an entire village. She knew ... There exist awards for everything, but no award, not even the highest Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union is enough for that mother ... For her silence. Some women on the front lines were so young, just girls. The Germans didn’t take women soldiers prisoner .... They shot them at once. Or led them before their lined-up soldiers and showed them off: look, they’re not women, they’re monsters. We always kept two bullets for ourselves, two — in case one misfired. and You can’t shoot unless you hate.It’s a war not a hunt. The water and earth were red with blood. I didn’t know yet how ordinary and indiscriminate death was They lie to parents back home about how well they are getting along on the front lines. There is so much death but there are other moments of humanity. More than one woman talks about how awful it is to wear men’s underpants. Others tell us this: Love is the only personal event in war. All the rest is common — even death. A pilot and lieutenant says this We all smoked. I also smoked. It made you feel as if you’d calmed down a little. You come back to earth shaking all over, you light a cigarette — and you calm down. We wore leather jackets, trousers, army shirts, plus a fur jacket in winter. Like it or not something masculine appeared in your gait and your movements. When the war was over, they made us khaki-colored dresses. We suddenly felt we were young girls. Women took all kinds of military positions typically reserved for men and many served as pilots and engineers. But most were medics and recount these stories. Tanks often burned. A tank soldier, if he survives, is all covered with burns. We, too, used to get burned, because to pull them out of burning tanks we had to go into the fire. It’s very hard to get a man through the hatch, especially a turret gunner. A dead man is heavier than a living one. Much heavier. I learned that quickly. A man is dying, but he still doesn’t think, doesn’t believe he is dying. But you see this yellow, yellow color coming from under the hairline, you see the shadow moving first over the face, then down under the clothes. He lies dead, and on his face there’s some sort of astonishment, as if he’s lying there thinking, How is it I’m dead? Can it be that I’m dead? Of course the horrors don’t end with the war. A medic tries to put it behind her. I went to the market ... I came in a light colored summer dress ... With my hair pinned up ... And what did I see there? Young fellows without arms, without legs ... All fighting men .... With orders, medals .... Whoever has hands sells homemade spoons. Women’s bras, underpants. Another ... without arms, without legs ... sits bathed in tears. Begs for small change... There were no wheelchairs then; they rolled around on homemade platforms, pushing them with their hands, if they had them. Some are drunk. Such scenes. I left.. And All the while I lived in Moscow, probably five years, I couldn’t go to the market. I was afraid one of these cripples would recognize me and shout, “Why did you pull me out of the fire then? Why did you save me? Another soldier recounts In the end only one fear remains — of being ugly after death. A woman’s fear ... Not to be torn to pieces by a shell ... I saw it happen ... I picked up those pieces A wife back home A year later a notice came: your husband Vladimir Grigorovich was killed in Germany, near Berlin. I’ve never even seen his grave. One of our neighbors came home perfectly healthy, another came home missing a leg. I grieved so much: let mine come back, even without legs, but alive. I’d have carried him in my arms. There are many disparaging words about Stalin’s ruthlessness after the war. Stalin’s regime charged large numbers of Soviet soldiers, who had surrendered to the Germans during the war, with treason and sent them to the Gulags. Many families never forgave Stalin for this betrayal. During the brief period of Glasnost when this book was written, the aging women were more open about their beliefs. Many of the women who fought on the front lines married men who also had fought on the front lines or had family members who were imprisoned. 5 stars. This is an excellent read and a seminal historical work in my opinion. Highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    Formidable tales of women who had the misfortune to live and serve through the WW2. Ms Alexievich's voice is the one that allows the memories to survive and remains a warning for future.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lubinka Dimitrova

    I never cry when I read books. Until now.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    The pain gathered between the pages of this book cannot be done justice. There's women in there, women who saw their children, husbands, parents die; women who helped strangers not to die; women who killed other men and women. Women who, decades later, still wake up from hellish nightmares in the sound of bombings. Women who have had their periods vanish for as many years as they were soldiers. Women who couldn't explain to their children what "a father" was... And these stories, Alexievich beau The pain gathered between the pages of this book cannot be done justice. There's women in there, women who saw their children, husbands, parents die; women who helped strangers not to die; women who killed other men and women. Women who, decades later, still wake up from hellish nightmares in the sound of bombings. Women who have had their periods vanish for as many years as they were soldiers. Women who couldn't explain to their children what "a father" was... And these stories, Alexievich beautifully recorded on paper. The story of the woman doing the man's job against all odds. The story of murdering when you were made to give life. The story of suffering, of horrors. And the story of love and happiness... The story of some lives. This book is a jewel; after finishing it, the reader must wear it proudly. This will be with me forever.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I have to say I feel somewhat guilty at not rating this book a little higher out of respect for the brave women whose wartime experiences are chronicled within. Let's face it: Aleksievich poured her heart and soul into the research, travelling to over 100 cities and villages to personally interview hundreds of female WWII veterans. She was eager to get their story recorded for posterity and was careful to keep a diary to make notes on her travels and interviews. The problem is that Russia had mo I have to say I feel somewhat guilty at not rating this book a little higher out of respect for the brave women whose wartime experiences are chronicled within. Let's face it: Aleksievich poured her heart and soul into the research, travelling to over 100 cities and villages to personally interview hundreds of female WWII veterans. She was eager to get their story recorded for posterity and was careful to keep a diary to make notes on her travels and interviews. The problem is that Russia had more than 800,000 women in arms during the war. Aleksievich interviewed a few hundred of these and then condensed her material into a book of less than 300 pages. Obviously, no one woman is going to get much of her story told in the space she would have allotted. Furthermore, the information received is practically all anecdotal and therefore vulnerable to embellishment or memory lapse. One thing is clear: the women under arms in Russia had a very, very hard go of it in WWII. As I read the book, I couldn't help drawing comparisons between the female warrior of the 1940s and her modern counterpart. Compare the Russian woman crawling through snow to drag a wounded enemy from the field to the the female staff at Abu Ghraib posing their naked "enemies" for shameful and demeaning photographs. These women volunteered for their service, often in the face of opposition from parents and military officials. Usually they were issued a single uniform and rations were in unbelievably short supply. They were shot, tortured, starved, and had limbs removed without the benefit of anaesthetic, yet they had the strength to see the war through and go on to have post-war careers and raise families. In fact, this book is a seemingly never-ending litany of woe with inhumanity piled upon inhumanity until it really just becomes numbing; families wiped out, friends vanished, limbs hacked off, children burned...and on and on until you feel you can't take it any more. I know that's the intent of the book...to show the ordeal endured by these heroines...but the task is too much for the writer. I would have preferred that she leaven the anecdotes with some statistics..they would almost be comic relief! Although the author's heart is in the right place, the project is too ambitious. Probably every one of those 800,000 women has enough credibility to warrant a book of her own; trying to give an overview of all that experience in under 300 pages is over-condensing it in my opinion. This book is definitely worth reading; it suffers a bit in the translation, I think, but you will meet many solid and dedicated women in these pages.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katie.dorny

    This book is a powerful collection of women’s recollections of the First World War on the front line. This book was awe-inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measure. There aren’t words to justify the need of respect for this publication.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marianna Neal

    I was emotionally decimated by this book. Nothing I've ever read about WWII comes close to this. Certain parts actually made me physically sick, which isn't something I've ever experienced while reading a book. And to think that a lot of these heroic women came home just to be treated with disdain, and deemed unworthy and ruined... You can't make this up, and these stories broke my heart over and over again.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    "War's Unwomanly Face" is a magnificent oral history about the 1,000,000 women who served in the Red Army during World II that will be more difficult for English-speaking readers who shop in the "Feminist Issues" section of the book-store to enjoy than their male counterparts who shop in the "War" section. The first reason is that one needs to have pre-conceptions about military functions (such as sniper, tank driver or sapper) in order to fully appreciate the analyses that Alexievitch makes of "War's Unwomanly Face" is a magnificent oral history about the 1,000,000 women who served in the Red Army during World II that will be more difficult for English-speaking readers who shop in the "Feminist Issues" section of the book-store to enjoy than their male counterparts who shop in the "War" section. The first reason is that one needs to have pre-conceptions about military functions (such as sniper, tank driver or sapper) in order to fully appreciate the analyses that Alexievitch makes of the women who occupied these roles for the Red Army. The second reason is that the "War" readers are more likely understand that the scale of the war was much greater in the East than in the West. Russia had over 9 million military deaths and another 15 million civilian deaths. In contrast the United Kingdom had roughly 400,000 military deaths and 70,000 civilian deaths. As it contains superb descriptions of life at the front and conditions in those parts of Russia under German occupation, I cannot imagine any reader familiar with Russia during WWII who not would enjoy "War's Unwomanly Face". Alexievitch's portrait of the war is highly consistent with those of Anthony Beevor ("Stalingrad") and Vassily Grossman ("Life and Fate"). At the same time it provides abundant new insight. While I have read very few works by feminist authors, I Alexievitch's opinions on women's issues appeared highly credible to me. This could be because she began the book by comparing the attitudes of male veterans to those of female veterans in a manner that was consistent with my own personal experience. She explained in the first chapter that she had great difficulty getting the women to talk whenever they were married to men who had also fought in the war. These women would also say that their husbands liked nothing more than to discuss the war, read more about and held stronger opinions. They urged Alexievitch to interview their husbands instead because they enjoyed talking about it much more than they did. The women interviewees gave very similar reasons for fighting. Their brothers and fathers had gone to the front and often died. The Germans were committing tremendous atrocities and the women felt that everyone needed to contribute to save the country. They were normally aged between 14 and 19 when they enrolled. Most were refused on several occasions before being accepted for military service. Without developing a taste for it, they quickly steeled themselves to killing. They endured incredible fatigue, dirt and food shortages. They feared more losing an arm or a leg than dying. After the war they were anxious to resume careers as teachers or doctors. Many reported having difficulties finding husbands as the Russian men seemed to find the women who had not fought to be more feminine. Most nonetheless got married and had families of which they were very proud. Most of the women interviewed appeared to come from families that were highly loyal to the communist party. The overwhelming majority were Byelorussian. "War's Unwomanly Face" will be an absolute delight to anyone who has already read several books on Russia during WWII. Readers unfamiliar with the war on the Eastern Front will most certainly enjoy more Alexievitch's book "Second hand Time" about Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Reading the entirety of this book on a long train journey was probably not a good idea, but I simply could not put it down. ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’ is one of the most devastating books I’ve ever read and it was an effort not to cry throughout. At several points I didn’t succeed in not crying, despite hating to show emotion on trains (a flagrant violation of the Public Transport Social Contract). Between 1978 and 1985 Svetlana Alexievich collected the testimonies of Soviet women who fought in Reading the entirety of this book on a long train journey was probably not a good idea, but I simply could not put it down. ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’ is one of the most devastating books I’ve ever read and it was an effort not to cry throughout. At several points I didn’t succeed in not crying, despite hating to show emotion on trains (a flagrant violation of the Public Transport Social Contract). Between 1978 and 1985 Svetlana Alexievich collected the testimonies of Soviet women who fought in the Second World War. She presents them with very little commentary, as the women’s own words are absolutely compelling. Ridiculous as it sounds, I felt like I was experiencing this book rather than reading it. Being told in unvarnished first person recollections, it is much more powerful than Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945. That was a very good book, while this is an exceptional one that reaches the same heights as Vasily Grossman. The women that Alexievich interviewed took many different roles in the war and had a wide range of horrific experiences. Some offer more detail, others a vignette or brief comment. Together, their voices convey the incredible contribution that Soviet women made to the defeat of the Nazis on the Eastern front. History has largely forgotten them and popular culture would have us believe that handsome white American and British men beat Hitler by themselves. These women suffered unbelievable physical and mental trauma. Almost all lost loved ones to the war. Many went to war as children, at the age of sixteen or younger! Understanding the scale of death and destruction on the Eastern front of WWII is very difficult, as such horrors defy human understanding. Individual stories collected together are easier for the mind to grasp. ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’ is terrifying, heart-rending, and stunning. An unforgettable book, one of the best things I have read this year and one of the best books about war that I’ve ever read. Since I can’t adequately describe its impact myself, here are a few quotes: We went to die for life, without knowing what life was. We had only read about it in books. I liked movies about love… Medical assistants in tank units died quickly. There was no room provided for us in a tank; you had to hang on to the armour plating, and the only thought was to avoid having your legs drawn into the caterpillar tread. And we had to watch for burning tanks… To jump down and run or crawl there… We were five girlfriends at the front: Liuba Yasinskaya, Shura Kiseleva, Tonya Bobkova, Zina Latysh, and me. The tank soldiers called us the Konakovo girls. And all the girls were killed... [...] In the morning the whole battalion lined up, those cowards were brought and placed before us. The order that they be shot was read. Seven men were needed to carry out the sentence… Three man stepped forward; the rest stood there. I took a submachine gun and stepped forward. Once I stepped forward… a young girl… everybody followed me… Those two could not be forgiven. Because of them such brave boys were killed! And we carried out the sentence… I lowered the submachine gun, and became frightened. I went up to them… they lay there… One had a living smile on his face. I don’t know, would I have forgiven them now? I can’t tell… I don’t want to lie. [...] We clothed the soldiers, laundered, ironed for them - that was our heroism. We rode on horseback, less often by train. Our horses were exhausted, you could say we got to Berlin on foot. And since we’re remembering like this, we did everything that was necessary: helped to carry the wounded, delivered shells by hand at the Dnieper, because it was impossible to transport them. We carried them from several miles away. We made dugouts, built bridges… We fell into an encirclement, I ran, I shot, like everybody else. Whether I killed or not, I can’t say. I ran and shot, like everybody else. [...] There was another woman, Zajarskaya. She had a daughter, Valeria; the girl was seven years old. We had to blow up the mess hall. We decided to plant a mine in the stove, but it had to be carried there. And the mother said her daughter would bring the mine. She put the mine in a basket and covered it with a couple of children’s outfits, a stuffed toy, two dozen eggs, and some butter. And so the girl brought the mine to the mess hall. People say that maternal instinct is stronger than anything. No, ideas are stronger! And faith is stronger! I think… I’m certain that if it wasn’t for such a mama and such a girl, and they hadn’t carried that mine, we wouldn’t have been victorious. Yes, life - it’s a good thing. Excellent! But there are things that are dearer… [...] And everybody was waiting for that moment… Now we’ll understand… Now we’ll see… Where do [Nazis] come from? What is their land like, their houses? Could it be that they are ordinary people? That they lived ordinary lives? At the front, I couldn’t imagine ever being able to read Heine’s poems again. My beloved Goethe. I could never listen to Wagner… Before the war, I grew up in a family of musicians, I loved German music - Bach, Beethoven. The great Bach! I crossed all this out of my world. Then we saw, they showed us the crematoriums… Auschwitz… Heaps of women’s clothing, children’s shoes… Gray ash… They spread it on the fields, under the cabbage. Under the lettuce… I couldn’t listen to German music anymore… A long time passed before I went back to Bach. Began to play Mozart. Finally, the new Penguin edition is beautifully presented. I read almost exclusively library and charity shop books, buying maybe two or three new books a year; this was one of them.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Ray

    The Unwomanly Face of War. Svetlana Alexievich. 1985 in Russian; new English translation 2017 is faithful to the Russian original. 331pp. (The old translation, published as "War's Unwomanly Face," was heavily censored to remove any criticism of the USSR.) USSR suffered far more loss of life than any other country in WWII. There was widespread destruction. It affected everyone. More than a million women served in the war. This is the story of many of them, collected 1978–1985. Alexievich interview The Unwomanly Face of War. Svetlana Alexievich. 1985 in Russian; new English translation 2017 is faithful to the Russian original. 331pp. (The old translation, published as "War's Unwomanly Face," was heavily censored to remove any criticism of the USSR.) USSR suffered far more loss of life than any other country in WWII. There was widespread destruction. It affected everyone. More than a million women served in the war. This is the story of many of them, collected 1978–1985. Alexievich interviews snipers, soldiers, pilots, medics, cooks, drivers, laundresses. (Wikipedia gives a conservative estimate of 27 million Soviet citizens dead as a result of WWII, many more badly wounded.) (Postwar, USSR was no possible threat to USA—when the U.S. government sold Americans permanent war “to protect us from the red menace.” But that’s another story.) YOUTH The girls went to war so young. I hope it hasn’t broken them. Otherwise they’ll be at war all their lives. (p. 155) We were 16. The last day of peace, we had a dance. Two days later our dance partners came back crippled. (p. 24) I was 15, my sister 14. Papa said, “all I can offer . . . my girls.” (p. 21) When they gave us rifles I thought, “When will I grow big enough for this rifle?” (p. 37) I was 5 feet tall, shoe size 5. They gave me size 10 boots. My feet were bloody blisters. I had never left our town, never slept in anyone else’s house. I was 5’ tall. The trousers came to my shoulders. (p. 119) We were all skinny. Men’s shirts hung loose. (p. 104) I was 14.5. I said 16. they let me stay. (pp. 142–143) I grew 4 inches during the war. We were so young. (p. 17) WAR There weren’t enough men. They had all been killed. (p. 28) I gave birth in a swamp. I’d go on missions with my baby. Germans burned villages with people inside. I gathered the charred remains of my friend’s family. “It’s mama’s jacket.” (p. 43) We couldn’t bury the dead, there were so many. They burned my sister’s house with her 3 boys in it. (p. 44) A machine gun is heavy. You drag it. Feel like a horse. Half man, half beast. If you’re human—you won’t stay whole! (p. 46) I could stand it with my mind and heart. Physically it was too much. We carried shells, guns, through mud like dough. To dig a common grave and bury our comrades after 3 days without sleep. We hadn’t the strength to weep. (p. 41) I carried 481 wounded soldiers from under fire. You carry 180 lbs. You weigh 100. (p. 64) We were so overworked we stopped having periods. (p. 199) After the battle there was no one to bandage. They had all been killed. (p. 67) Sometimes after a battle there was no one left to eat. I’d cook a whole pot of soup, there’d be no one to give it to. (p. 72) Our horses were exhausted. We got to Berlin on foot. (p. 164) What is happiness? To suddenly find a living man among the dead. (p. 60) We had no children. Our house burned. No photographs are left. If I bring him home, there will at least be a grave. (p. 229) After the war ended, we spent 1 more year demining. (p. 223) We won but at what cost! What terrible cost! (p. 37) RAPE I went to the battalion commander’s dugout. What else could I do? There were only men around. After the battle each of them lies in wait for you. Better to live with one than be afraid of them all. (pp. 235–236) CHANGE In 2 hours my hair turned gray. (p. 64) I came back from the war at 21, my hair white. (p. 10) AFTERMATH We moved through Belorussia, saw no men. Only women were left. (p. 206) I was left with 3 little sons. We were left without men, without horses. I pulled the plow myself. (p. 269) Now I wake at night in fear, I dream I’m in the war. (p. 45) Men stabbing each other. Sticking a bayonet in the mouth, in the eye, in the heart, in the stomach. After the war, I’d wake up screaming. (p. 66) The ones I killed come to me in my sleep. (p. 62) It’s like a terrible dream. It took me so long to forget. I’ve been at war all my life. (p. 113) In war your soul ages. After the war I was never young. (p. 139) Men without arms, legs. All the while I lived in Moscow I couldn’t go to the market. I was afraid a cripple would recognize me, shout, “Why did you pull me out of the fire?” (p. 155) To this day I can’t cut up a chicken. (p. 123) Here the war hasn’t ended. (p. 77) I have children, grandchildren. But I live in the war. I’m there all the time. (p. 87) I’d like to live just one day without memory of war. (p. 98) I have to prepare myself to talk to you about it. I don’t want to be in that hell again. (p. 99) (Goodreads policy mavens unfortunately refuse to distinguish between the two completely-different books, /War's Unwomanly Face/ and /The Unwomanly Face of War/ -- shelving them together as if they were one book. https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/... Nor, bizarrely, is goodreads willing to give the user a way to see an author's titles in a language intelligible to that user. https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/... )

  30. 5 out of 5

    ~Bookishly

    "There can't be one heart for hatred and another for love. We only have one, and I always thought about how to save my heart." When we think of war, it is something that we often think is associated with men. Throughout history, women in fact have been fighting in wars, but unfortunately, we don't often get to hear their stories. The journalist, Svetlana Alexievich, brings us the true and horrific accounts of women that fought in The great Patriotic war between the soviet Union, and the Nazi Germa "There can't be one heart for hatred and another for love. We only have one, and I always thought about how to save my heart." When we think of war, it is something that we often think is associated with men. Throughout history, women in fact have been fighting in wars, but unfortunately, we don't often get to hear their stories. The journalist, Svetlana Alexievich, brings us the true and horrific accounts of women that fought in The great Patriotic war between the soviet Union, and the Nazi Germany. The majority of these accounts were truly shocking, but it also shows that the world was not ready and had had no preparation for women soldiers. The accounts written in this book are full of the feelings of the women, what they thought about war, the sadness, the dispair and just the total rawness of being involved in war. I found some rather difficult to digest, but I was also glad to be reading these personal accounts, as it means that women are being brought forward to be heard, instead of the men. "At the age of nineteen I had a medal "For courage". At the age of nineteeen, my hair turned grey. At the age of nineteen in my last battle I was shot through both lungs, the bullet went in between two vertebrae. My legs were paralysed... They thought I was dead.." What I do find immensely sad, is the women's strong reluctance to speak of their time at war, for fear of it being judged negatively or as" unwomanly" There is a stigma there, and that is pretty painful in itself. These young women set out leaving their parents, their children and their spouses and they fought for their country, for all that they care for and love, and, for their futures. "We were hiding in the deep woods, hiding in the swamps where the torturers did not go [...] A radio operator was with us. She gave birth recently. The baby was hungry... Wanting the breast... But the mother is starving, she has no milk, and the baby is crying. The Germans are nearby... With dogs... If the dogs hear the baby, we're all dead. All of us - thirty people... Do you understand? We make a decision... Nobody dares to tell her the commader's order, but the mother guesses it herself. She puts the bundle with the baby into the water and holds it there for a long time... The baby does not cry... Not a sound... And we cannot lift our eyes. We cannot look at the mother or at each other..." These accounts resulted in me putting the book down, attempting to compose myself, and then trying to understand what I'd just read. I struggled to wrap my head around some of it, I'll admit, it chilled me to the bone. Apparently, this book was almost not printed, due to the reluctance of the Soviet censors. Well, I'm glad that these stories did make it out, as they show you the devastating and enormous cost that wars cause.

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