counter create hit Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War - Download Free eBook
Hot Best Seller

Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War

Availability: Ready to download

Winner of the Nobel Prize: “For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” —Swedish Academy, Nobel Prize citation From 1979 to 1989 a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties—and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. Creating controversy and outrage when it was first pub Winner of the Nobel Prize: “For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” —Swedish Academy, Nobel Prize citation From 1979 to 1989 a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties—and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. Creating controversy and outrage when it was first published in the USSR—it was called by reviewers there a “slanderous piece of fantasy” and part of a “hysterical chorus of malign attacks”—Zinky Boys presents the candid and affecting testimony of the officers and grunts, nurses and prostitutes, mothers, sons, and daughters who describe the war and its lasting effects. What emerges is a story that is shocking in its brutality and revelatory in its similarities to the American experience in Vietnam. The Soviet dead were shipped back in sealed zinc coffins (hence the term “Zinky Boys”), while the state denied the very existence of the conflict. Svetlana Alexievich brings us the truth of the Soviet-Afghan War: the beauty of the country and the savage Army bullying, the killing and the mutilation, the profusion of Western goods, the shame and shattered lives of returned veterans. Zinky Boys offers a unique, harrowing, and unforgettably powerful insight into the harsh realities of war.


Compare

Winner of the Nobel Prize: “For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” —Swedish Academy, Nobel Prize citation From 1979 to 1989 a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties—and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. Creating controversy and outrage when it was first pub Winner of the Nobel Prize: “For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” —Swedish Academy, Nobel Prize citation From 1979 to 1989 a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties—and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. Creating controversy and outrage when it was first published in the USSR—it was called by reviewers there a “slanderous piece of fantasy” and part of a “hysterical chorus of malign attacks”—Zinky Boys presents the candid and affecting testimony of the officers and grunts, nurses and prostitutes, mothers, sons, and daughters who describe the war and its lasting effects. What emerges is a story that is shocking in its brutality and revelatory in its similarities to the American experience in Vietnam. The Soviet dead were shipped back in sealed zinc coffins (hence the term “Zinky Boys”), while the state denied the very existence of the conflict. Svetlana Alexievich brings us the truth of the Soviet-Afghan War: the beauty of the country and the savage Army bullying, the killing and the mutilation, the profusion of Western goods, the shame and shattered lives of returned veterans. Zinky Boys offers a unique, harrowing, and unforgettably powerful insight into the harsh realities of war.

30 review for Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I remember back in the '70s having to sit through long presentations regarding the Soviet Union and the military might thereof. These briefings were given by American military personnel and the general theme was that the Soviet Union was an evil empire, armed to the teeth. It seemed that they had endless munitions and hordes of personnel under arms, all of whom wanted our stuff. They had no stuff in the Soviet Union, we were told, and they would be coveting our stuff, which we had in abundance. I remember back in the '70s having to sit through long presentations regarding the Soviet Union and the military might thereof. These briefings were given by American military personnel and the general theme was that the Soviet Union was an evil empire, armed to the teeth. It seemed that they had endless munitions and hordes of personnel under arms, all of whom wanted our stuff. They had no stuff in the Soviet Union, we were told, and they would be coveting our stuff, which we had in abundance. Some of this propaganda had a grain of truth in it: the Soviets were starved for consumer goods and they did have a lot of men under arms, but the weaponry was outdated and defective and the soldiery reluctant and usually coerced into service. And while there was a shortage of consumer goods, even the most fashion-conscious was unlikely to risk death for a pair of jeans. Somehow the people doing the briefings neglected to mention that part. In short, while the Soviet Union had enough punch to mess the world up considerably, they were extremely unlikely to start anything, military bombast notwithstanding. After the "invasion" of Afghanistan, I recall even more anti-Soviet propaganda. One US-based military magazine sought donations to purchase ammo for the mujahidin. If I recall correctly, the slogan was "Kill a commie for Mommy" or some such blather. I have often wondered if anyone ever contributed and, if so, whether any of the contribution actually made it to Afghanistan. I guess what I'm getting at with all of this preamble is that we were pretty much brainwashed into an intense dislike of all things Soviet. This book is the result of many personal interviews the author conducted with returned soldiers and civilians and also with the next of kin of those who were returned in zinc coffins, or zinky boys as they became known. Alexievich has managed to put a human face on the Soviet soldier for me, and I have come to realize that soldiers are soldiers the world over. Our governments start wars, and governments legislate soldiers into action whether the soldier likes it or not. In the case of the Russians, many of them were told that their intervention in Afghanistan prevented the takeover of the country by the USA, which was on the point of invading. Many soldiers were told they were being airlifted to some other destination, only to find themselves in Afghanistan when the plane touched down. Some volunteered for the job, as the bazaars in Afghanistan had more consumer goods than the Soviet shops. Ponder that for a moment; a backwater like Afghanistan having more produce than your home country! Life was hard for these soldiers. The Soviet army turned a blind eye to the constant hazing and abuse of recruits. New soldiers were routinely robbed and beaten by the older soldiers or "grandfathers". An excerpt from a soldier's letter home: "Mum, buy me a puppy and call it Sergeant so I can kill it when I get home." (p.46) Even the female civilian employees were not free from abuse. They volunteered for service; some for patriotic reasons, some for the extra pay, and yet others for the shopping opportunities. Whatever their motivation, they were universally assumed to have come hunting for men. Sadly, many of them felt a need to take on a man as protection against the predations of others. Better one devil you know than many you don't. Alexeivich has really been able to express the anguish and heartache of those who came back to a country that was so neglectful that Afghanistan casualties, Zinky Boys, were not allowed to be buried in the same section of a cemetery, like they were a collective dirty secret. I won't even go into the sense of loss and betrayal expressed by grieving mothers who were never given adequate details regarding the death of their respective children. In spite of this, the reaction to the author's work was mixed, and I leave you with this final quote from a call she received: "Who needs your dreadful truth? I don't want to know it!!! You want to buy your own glory at the expense of our sons' blood. They were heroes, heroes, heroes! They should have beautiful books written about them, and you're turning them into mincemeat" (p.187)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Naeem

    I could not and still cannot read this book for more than 10 pages at a time. I put it down, wipe my tears, walk around the house a few times, and get back to it with some wariness. One of my friends/students once said to me, "Never, never teach a class on Afghanistan without this book." Or for that matter on war. The love of a mother for her son (and sometimes daughter) has never, for me, been so strongly conveyed as in this book. The fear and idealism of the soldier never opened up so carefull I could not and still cannot read this book for more than 10 pages at a time. I put it down, wipe my tears, walk around the house a few times, and get back to it with some wariness. One of my friends/students once said to me, "Never, never teach a class on Afghanistan without this book." Or for that matter on war. The love of a mother for her son (and sometimes daughter) has never, for me, been so strongly conveyed as in this book. The fear and idealism of the soldier never opened up so carefully, so delicately, so warmly, so precisely. The collective delusions of a society never conveyed so irresistibly as tides, as a gravity that pulls everyone to tragedy, to the inevitable implosion of one's naivete, towards one's desire to be find out that one is indeed a fool, a loving fool, but a fool. That these are soviet soldiers speaking about their experience in Afghanistan brings home the significance of this book in elliptical ways. The indirectness of the blows Aleksievich delivers compound their deft, deadly, efficiency. Through the particular the universal speaks. And, as it speaks it carries itself to and through another particular. The Soviets and the USAers -- twins. Read this book and be changed. Read it again and again be changed. Read it a third time and ask yourself if we do not discover our humanity by tragedy alone. A good film to watch as a companion to this book: The Thin Red Line (1998)

  3. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    Prologue From the Notebooks --Boys in Zinc Post Mortem 'Boys in Zinc' on Trial Prologue From the Notebooks --Boys in Zinc Post Mortem 'Boys in Zinc' on Trial

  4. 5 out of 5

    PGR Nair

    ZINKY BOYS: A REQUIEM TO THE REMEMBERED When I read a few days ago in Ladbroke betting site that Svetlana Alexievich, the great Belarusian writer, is topping as a probable candidate for 2015 Nobel prize for literature, I felt a palpitation in my heart. Ever since I read her book Zinky Boys, I have been a great fan of this writer. Now that she has won the prize, my joy knows no bounds as she is a truly deserving writer to win Nobel Prize. I own two books of her-Zinky Boys and Voices from Cherneob ZINKY BOYS: A REQUIEM TO THE REMEMBERED When I read a few days ago in Ladbroke betting site that Svetlana Alexievich, the great Belarusian writer, is topping as a probable candidate for 2015 Nobel prize for literature, I felt a palpitation in my heart. Ever since I read her book Zinky Boys, I have been a great fan of this writer. Now that she has won the prize, my joy knows no bounds as she is a truly deserving writer to win Nobel Prize. I own two books of her-Zinky Boys and Voices from Cherneobyl. Both of them fall into a kind Oral history of ordinary people entangled in the events that are beyond their control; superhuman events that had torpedoed their life- The Soviet Invasion of Afghan and the Chernobyl Nuclear tragedy. The throng of tragedies that she portrays through episodic narration from the voices of the people and witnesses she had interviewed after the events overwhelm any sensitive reader. The trauma of ordinary people who were incapacitated by the immensity of sorrow as a result of the unforeseen events acquire extraordinary dimension as we read them. Zinky Boys chronicle the stories of mothers, Generals, widows, Privates, nurses, Civilians and even Military advisors who were traumatized by the soviet invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The war claimed about 50,000 Soviet causalities, most whom were young boys recruited to fight the Afghan Mujahideens. The Soviet dead were shipped back home in sealed zinc coffins (Hence the term ‘Zinky Boys’. The title is an ironic allusion, on the one hand to the zinc coffins used by the Red Army in this war, on the other hand to the Soviet imagery of ‘steel men’, soldier and workers in heroic narratives of earlier wars.) while the state was denying the tragedy and even the very existence of a conflict in Afghanistan. The whole book as I said is a chorus of voices; voices that reverberate with pain and agony. They offer a unique and hauntingly powerful insight into the realities of war and how the iron curtain of Soviet Union made it invisible and improbable. Here is an excerpt. Note how she builds up the emotional crescendo by repetitions and associations to simple aspects of her child. MOTHER He was always small. He was as small as a girl when he was born, just couple of kilos, and he grew up small. I’d cuddle him and call him my little sunshine. The only thing he was afraid was spiders. Once he went out to play. We’d bought him a new coat and when he returned I hung it up in the cupboard and went into the kitchen. A few minute later I heard this strange noise , shelp-shlep, shlep-shlep. The entrance-hall was full of frogs. They were jumping out of his pockets. He picked them all up. ‘Don’t be frightened Mum,’ he said, stuffing them back in pockets, ‘they’re nice little creature’. My little sunshine… He loved toys to do with war, tanks, machine guns, pistols. He’d strap guns round himself and march round the house. ‘I ‘m a soldier, I’m soldier.’ When he went to school, we couldn’t find a uniform to fit him and he was lost in the smallest one they had. My little sunshine… Then they took him off to army. I prayed he wouldn’t be killed. I prayed he wouldn’t be beaten up and humiliated by the bigger, senior ones-he was so small. He told us how they could force you to clean out the toilets with a toothbrush and wash out other people’s underpants. That’s what I was afraid of. He wrote and told us when he was being posted and to send him photos of his mum and sister….* He didn’t write where he was being sent. Two months later we had a letter from Afghanistan. ‘Don’t cry, Mum, our flak-jackets are very good,’ he wrote. ‘Our flak-jackets are good…’ My little sunshine…. I was already expecting him home, he had a month more to go in army. I managed to buy him some shirts, and a scarf, and shoes. They’re still in the cupboard. The first thing I knew about it was when a captain from headquarters arrived. ‘Try to be strong, mother…..’ That’s what he called me. ‘Where is my son?’ ‘Here in Minsk. They’re bringing him now.’ I fell to the floor. ‘My little sunshine. My little sunshine.’ I got up and threw myself at the captain. ‘Why are you alive and my son dead? You’re big and strong and he’s so small. You’re a man and he’s just boy. Why are you alive?’ They brought in the coffin. I collapsed over it. I wanted to lay him out and they wouldn’t allow us to open the coffin to see him, touch him, touch him….Did they find a uniform to fit him? ‘My little sunshine, my little sunshine.’ Now I just want to be in the coffin with him. I go to the cemetery, throw myself on the gravestone and cuddle him. My little sunshine…. ( *As part of the regime of military secrecy conscripts are generally sent to their units straight from the training-camp) .............................................................................. I know there are puritans who consider that interviews and oral history are not literature in the sense intended by Nobel and the sense employed by the Academy all these years. I do not bear any disinclination to "creative-nonfiction" or "Journalistic Literature" (an excellent example in this genre is that of the late Polish Journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuściński whose works like "Emperor", "Sha of Iran" and "Another day of Life" are marvellous testaments of intercultural encounters and life in turbulent times like in Ethiopia, Iran and Angola) so long as the works are great testaments of humanity. Well, this genre is not new also as many writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Gulag Archipelago), Truman Capote and Oliver Sacks have written similar works. The greatness of that Svetlana Alexievich lies in the fact that though the book is written as a collage of polyphonic voices, the voices are distinctive in many episodes. Being a mother, she excels well in narrating memories of mothers and widows.Her prose is lucid and devastating. She sees things with heart and her Ear is the witness. I couldn’t read the book at a stretch when I read it in 2006 as many passages gave a lump in my throat and made my eyes misty. Yes, the book is not altogether devoid of sentimentality, though the writer has strived to maintain great restraint, concision and solemnity in her narration. The feminine memory has an adorable charm in this book. Their voices are more ethical than political. I wish to cite one more small passage from the voice of a Widow. There’s a big photograph of him hanging on the wall.'Take Daddy down for me’, my little girl asks, ‘I want to play with Daddy’. She puts her toys round his picture and talks to him. When I put her to bed at night she asks, ‘Who shot Daddy? Why did they choose Daddy?’ I take her to nursery school and when it’s time to take her home she’s in tears. ‘I’m not leaving school till Daddy comes to fetch me. Where’s my Daddy?’ What can I tell her? How can I explain? I’m only twenty-one myself. This summer I took her to my mother in the country, hoping she’d forget him. I’m not strong enough to go on crying day after day…I watch a man with his wife and child, three of them going somewhere together and my soul begins to scream….’If only you could get up for one single minute to see what a lovely daughter you’ve got . This incomprehensible war is over for you, but not for me, and for our daughter it will never be over for she’ll go on living after us, Our children are the unhappiest generation of all-they’ll have to take responsibility for everything…Can you hear me? Who am I crying to…. Zinky boys is a marvellous attempt in writing multiple autobiography. The monologues and memories that come alive in Zinky Boys are monumental testimonies of the misfortunes inflicted by mankind.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    What made this book so powerful, so heartbreaking, was its simplicity. In Zinky Boys, Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviews the mothers, widows, civilians and soldiers whose lives were destroyed by the USSR's ten year war in Afghanistan. The 197 pages are filled with dozens of short interviews which left me close to tears, depressed, imagining myself burying a son or thinking what it would take to kill without judgment. Page 23. An army nurse recalls, "Sometimes we massacred a whole v What made this book so powerful, so heartbreaking, was its simplicity. In Zinky Boys, Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviews the mothers, widows, civilians and soldiers whose lives were destroyed by the USSR's ten year war in Afghanistan. The 197 pages are filled with dozens of short interviews which left me close to tears, depressed, imagining myself burying a son or thinking what it would take to kill without judgment. Page 23. An army nurse recalls, "Sometimes we massacred a whole village in revenge for one of our boys... I remember one girl lying in the dust like a broken doll with no arms and no legs... And yet we went on being surprised they didn't love us." What a quote! "And yet we went on being surprised they didn't love us." Some of the stories are stuck in my head. A soldier leaping into a trench-- and onto a mine. His legs were blown off. Soldiers admitting they massacred civilians in senseless acts of revenge. Their "confessions" to Alexievich-- how they turned into animals, how they can longer look at a woman, how some wish they could shoot anyone who looks at them the wrong way on the street. Those who survived saw their humanity killed off. The Soviet Union destroyed Afghanistan. The exact number of lives lost never will be known, but the estimates of Afghan dead are staggering. The Soviets lost at least 15,000 men. Men? I should say boys. Many were conscripts, 18 to 20 years old, who had little military experience, were given unlimited guns and ammo, and learned to kill everything that moved. Alas, zinky boys. The bodies of the Soviet soldiers were shipped home in zinc coffins. I can picture one of those coffins concealing the maimed body of a Russian teenager, lying in a drab flat in Moscow, a mother draping her body over it, crying out for her son. Page 32. A mother, whose son was killed doing his "international duty" to defend the Motherland. "I can't carry on any longer, I just can't. I've been dying for two years now. I'm not ill, but I'm dying. My whole body is dead. I suppose we're already dead but nobody knows." Page 53. A mother. "They brought in the coffin. I collapsed over it. I wanted to lay him out but they wouldn't allow us to open the coffin to see him... Now I just want to be in the coffin with him. I go to the cemetery, throw myself on the gravestone and cuddle him." There are a couple common themes running through all the interviews. One is betrayal. Nearly all the soldiers and civilians who served in Afghanistan tell Alexievich they believed they were sent to Afghanistan to do good. They were there to defend an ideology, to defend Russia's borders, to help the Afghan people see the truth of socialism. After experiencing the horrors of war, they begin to question. When they return home (often without eyes, legs, and/or arms), they feel an array of emotions: pride, revulsion, guilt, sadness, longing for love and comradeship-- bonds some mythically believed had been found in the filth of the front lines. And betrayal. Many of the boys --again, think 18 to 20 year olds-- deflect responsibility for their war crimes and place it on the monstrous Soviet government. They resent the criticism launched at them by a public that has also finally learned the truth (Moscow tried to keep secret the average yearly deployment of 100,000 Soviet troops; when the zinc coffins started coming home people began to understand what really was happening). Some clung to hope. Page 43. Sergeant-Major. "I accepted the official line so completely that even now, after all I've read and heard, I still have a minute hope that our lives weren't entirely wasted." Tragedy struck more than once. Families were lied to about their sons' whereabouts (in some cases even the soldiers weren't sure where they were headed). Then the war wrecked their bodies and minds-- and tortured their emotional lives. When the soldiers returned home (alive or in a zinc coffin) they and their families were run over again-- by the shame of fighting in what many began to see as a dirty, useless war. Yet the war's transformational power wasn't only destructive. Some soldiers admitted longing for what they had in Afghanistan that they could never get again at home: the test of their mortality, the challenge to overcome hardship, the bonds with their fellow men-at-arms. This positive feeling pales in comparison to the overwhelmingly negative vibe that pours from the pages, but it is remarkable nonetheless. This feeling reminded me of John Keegan's final paragraph in his one-volume study of WWI.. on the mystery of that war. It might be said of many wars. "If we could understand its loves, as well as its hates, we would be nearer understanding the mystery of human life." Alexievich also received many letters from readers which make up the final pages of Zinky Boys. Some thanked her; others excoriated her for reporting the truth. You can sense some Russians felt liberated at finally being able to criticize their government, for finally being able to learn the truth-- while at the same time being tugged the other way by guilt and shame. I could not fathom how some Russian civilians blamed themselves for the war. In a country where the people had no say, had no access to information about what was going on? In a nation run by a monstrous government that forced mothers to bury their sons at night so few people would take notice? Zinky Boys made me reflect on my own responsibility living in a free nation with access to information. It is a heavy question to consider. The book provides an interesting comparison to the U.S and its current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you are self-secure enough to walk down that path. Don't we also believe we are doing good? Don't we also believe we know what's best for others? Don't we also find all kinds of ways to deflect responsibility or rationalize brutal behavior? Don't we all have contradictory feelings tugging inside us, just like the soldiers interviewed by Alexievich? They hated their country for what it made them do, but some didn't necessarily hate what they did. Others did feel the burden of war crimes. And what is it about war-- the most destructive force on earth-- that provides an opportunity to do the most productive self-reflection? Thanks to Naeem for recommending a book that got me thinking even more-- and asking more questions-- so that I may continue to dance with my doubt. Five stars for Zinky Boys-- a shattering book!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)

    A brutal look at the Afghanistan war of the 1980s, as told from the Soviet perspective. Alexievich is a journalist (the book is mostly interviews of soldiers, civilian employees, mothers, and widows affected by the war), but it's clear that she presents these responses for her own narrative and rhetorical purposes. Even if you have no interest in this specific war, this book is an utterly compelling look at so many things: the mentality of obeying orders without questioning them (a particular ta A brutal look at the Afghanistan war of the 1980s, as told from the Soviet perspective. Alexievich is a journalist (the book is mostly interviews of soldiers, civilian employees, mothers, and widows affected by the war), but it's clear that she presents these responses for her own narrative and rhetorical purposes. Even if you have no interest in this specific war, this book is an utterly compelling look at so many things: the mentality of obeying orders without questioning them (a particular talent of both soldiers and Soviet citizens at large); the silence and secrecy of the Soviet government/media surrounding the war; soldiers' conflicting feelings of pride and shame; all different kinds of PTSD; and the denial, aggression, acceptance, and confusion that this "dishonorable" war still inspires as people try to sort out their memories of it. Powerful reading.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Very good collection of monologues from Soviet participants in the Afghanistan War - full of insight and depressing reality, and often quite beautiful. I think this fell a bit short of the truly excellent VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL, both with its slightly clunkier frame and its more universal backdrop. While Chernobyl is unique, war is horrifically usual, and so we're somewhat more inured to the tragic arc of the narratives here. That does not rob this book of its notable power, but it did diminish t Very good collection of monologues from Soviet participants in the Afghanistan War - full of insight and depressing reality, and often quite beautiful. I think this fell a bit short of the truly excellent VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL, both with its slightly clunkier frame and its more universal backdrop. While Chernobyl is unique, war is horrifically usual, and so we're somewhat more inured to the tragic arc of the narratives here. That does not rob this book of its notable power, but it did diminish the variety between the voices.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    "‘I cried when I read your article, but I shan’t read the whole book, because of an elementary sense of self-preservation. I’m not sure whether we ought to know so much about ourselves. Perhaps it’s just too frightening. It leaves a great void in my soul. You begin to lose faith in your fellow-man and fear him instead.’" This is the second book I have that is written by Svetlana Alexievich and her books really do make me wonder about why I read. On one hand, her books are about truth - and pl "‘I cried when I read your article, but I shan’t read the whole book, because of an elementary sense of self-preservation. I’m not sure whether we ought to know so much about ourselves. Perhaps it’s just too frightening. It leaves a great void in my soul. You begin to lose faith in your fellow-man and fear him instead.’" This is the second book I have that is written by Svetlana Alexievich and her books really do make me wonder about why I read. On one hand, her books are about truth - and plain, ugly truth at that which needs to be told or it would be suppressed, and thus exactly the kind of books that should be read on the priority basis. On other hand, her books are so depressing - being full of accounts of lost and wasted lives; making one wonder whether there really is any point in reading them. Though not as depressing as Chernobyl diaries, this one is full of sad accounts of all those whose lives were ruined in Afghanistan - including accounts of soldiers who lost their limbs, mothers, and wives of soldiers who lost their lives, the traumatic experiences of women who were sent there as nurses etc. The name of the book comes from the Zinc coffins in which the Russian soldiers who died in Afghanistan war were brought back home - in an effort by the Soviet government to maintain secrecy about the existence of a conflict. And it is Zincy Boys because they were really boys too young to understand life at all, many still mamma's boys. And though they were forced to go there through coercion or fraud, they and their families still have to deal with prejudice of people who hold them responsible for the war. They try to get together because no one who wasn't in the war could understand them. "In the eight years since the war the number of suicides - officers as well as other ranks - is about the same as the number of fatalities in the war itself.” The worst parts are those where an account of a compassionate soldier or nurse, contains details of Afghan Children who lost his or her limbs or life in war. "I drove to a hospital for Afghan civilians with a group of nurses – we brought presents for the children. Toys, candy, cookies. I had about five teddy bears. We arrived at the hospital, along barracks. No one has more than a blanket for bedding. A young Afghan woman approached me, holding a child in her arms. She wanted to say something – over the last ten years almost everyone here has learned to speak a little Russian – and I handed the child a toy, which he took with his teeth. "Why his teeth?" I asked in surprise. She pulled the blanket off his tiny body – the little boy was missing both arms. "It was when your Russians bombed." Someone held me up as I began to fall." The introduction focuses on the similarities between the Vietnam war and Afghanistan war. In both cases, a government of one of the most powerful countries of the time decides to wage a useless war and forced or frauded her boys (the ones who were not rich enough to pay their way out of it) into going to fight in a third world country that was fighting for its independence. Moreover, in both cases, people of the attacking countries didn't support the war. It is tragic how people are quick to jump to conclusions that wars are the only solutions to most international conflicts. Why is it that seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds find it easier to kill than thirty-year-olds, for example? Because they have no pity, that’s why. When the war was over I noticed how violent fairytales were. People are always killing each other, Baba Yaga even roasts them in her oven, but the children are never frightened. They hardly ever even cry! Of course, most of these people have never been to an actual war themselves. And this kind of books are solutions to their ignorance. This is what a textbook on history should be like, instead of a book that makes you learn things like strategies each side employed or why a particular side won or which General or major won which battle. I kind of don't understand how can anyone with open mind continue to justify any of those - the need for war, need for armies and need for the feeling of nationalism (which if you think about it is just a fancy name for tribalism): "I had my son’s stone engraved with these words: “Remember, friends, he died that the living might live.” I know, now, that that was not true - he did not die for the sake of the living. I was lied to when I was young and continued the process with him. We were so good at believing. “Love the Motherland, son, she’ll never betray you and love you always.” I used to repeat to him. Now I would like to write something different on his grave: “Why?” ’ (A mother) More Quotes "‘I was on holiday by the Black Sea and saw a few young lads crawling over the sand to get to the water. I didn’t go to the beach anymore, I’d just have started crying. They were laughing and trying to flirt with us girls but we all ran away from them." "Until I 988, Soviet psychologists had never heard of PTSD, until American psychologists expert with post-war trauma visited and told them. Up till then, their answer was behavior modification with drugs - the way Soviet psychiatry had always dealt with mental illness." "A boy might be blown up by a mine and there’d be nothing left except half a bucket of flesh, but we wrote that he’d died of food poisoning, or in a car accident, or he’d fallen into a ravine." "We wanted to shut the doors so no one would hear, because there were soldiers dying alone next door, boys with no one to weep for them. ‘Mum! Mum!’ they’d shout, and I’d lie to them, ‘I’m here.’ We became their mothers and sisters, and we wanted to be worthy of their trust." "Nowadays I don’t just hate war. I can’t even stand seeing a couple of boys having a scrap in the park. And please, don’t tell me the war’s over now. In summer, when I breathe in the hot dusty air, or see a pool of stagnant water, or smell the dry flowers in the fields, it’s like a punch in the head. I’ll be haunted by Afghanistan for the rest of my life ..." "When we went on a raid we’d pin a note to the upper part of our body and another to the lower part so that if we were blown up by a mine one or the other would be found. Or else we wore bracelets with our name, number and blood group engraved on them. We never said ‘I’m going ... ’ always ‘I’ve been sent ... ’ And we never said the word ‘last’: ‘Let’s go and have a last drink.’" "‘Could you have refused to go to Afghanistan?’ Me personally? Only one of our group of professional army officers, Major Bondarenko, a battery commander, refused. The first thing that happened was, he had to face a ‘court of honor’, which convicted him of cowardice. Can you imagine what that does to a man’s self-esteem? Suicide might be the easiest way out. Then he was demoted to captain and posted to a building battalion as punishment. Then he was expelled from the party and eventually discharged with dishonor. How many men could go through all that? And he was a military man to the bone - he’d spent thirty years in the army." "That was five years ago. I still have this dream. I’m in a long mine-field. I’ve drawn up a plan, based on the number of mines and the number of rows, and markers to find them by. But I’ve lost the plan. (In fact we often did lose them, or else the marker was a tree which had been destroyed or a pile of stones which had been blown up. Nobody wanted to go and check, and risk getting blown up by our own mines.) In my dream I see children running near the mine-field, they don’t know there are mines there. I want to shout: ‘Stop! Mines!’ I want to warn the children. I want to warn the children ... I’m running ... I have both my legs back, and I can see, my eyes can see again ... But that’s only at night, only in my dream. Then I wake up." "Did you know that drugs and fur coats were smuggled in coffins? Yes, right in there with the bodies! Have you ever seen necklaces of dried ears? Yes, trophies of war, rolled up into little leaves and kept in matchboxes! Impossible?" "In the amputee wards, the men’ll talk about anything except the future, according to some girls I know. In fact, no one likes to think of the future here. Perhaps it’s more frightening to die if you’re happy."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Al

    When I was young, for a while I wanted to be a historian. I was fascinated by the past, but particularly by individuals. I remember writing a sweeping story from the point of view of Robespierre, his life, loves, even his mum. My teacher gave me a shit grade and told me history is not about people, but about events. Over two weeks I just read Boys in Zinc, and A Chernobyl Prayer. This is a review for both books. I almost stopped reading after the first account in A Chernobyl Prayer. The pain of When I was young, for a while I wanted to be a historian. I was fascinated by the past, but particularly by individuals. I remember writing a sweeping story from the point of view of Robespierre, his life, loves, even his mum. My teacher gave me a shit grade and told me history is not about people, but about events. Over two weeks I just read Boys in Zinc, and A Chernobyl Prayer. This is a review for both books. I almost stopped reading after the first account in A Chernobyl Prayer. The pain of the story killed me. Both books are brilliant. There are letters and accounts by soldiers, mother's and fathers, sweethearts, doctors, and every one caught up in the events of war and catastrophe. My words cannot do these books justice, but I think the words of the people involved do more than that. They show us everything that is the human being. Now, I intend to read something light. I will never forget the voices in these books. Oh, my teacher was wrong.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sean Blake

    Not many books have had me wiping tears from my eyes. However, some of the harrowing stories told by these soldiers and mothers whose lives were irrecoverably damaged by the 'political error', later called a 'crime', that was the Soviet-Afghan War had my eyes filled with tears. Svetlana Alexievich's Boys in Zinc documents this tragic history that pretty much brought down the Soviet Union. These 'live voices, live destinies', as described by Svetlana Alexievich, paint the raw and gruesome reality Not many books have had me wiping tears from my eyes. However, some of the harrowing stories told by these soldiers and mothers whose lives were irrecoverably damaged by the 'political error', later called a 'crime', that was the Soviet-Afghan War had my eyes filled with tears. Svetlana Alexievich's Boys in Zinc documents this tragic history that pretty much brought down the Soviet Union. These 'live voices, live destinies', as described by Svetlana Alexievich, paint the raw and gruesome reality that is war. Alexievich manages to bring out all the fear, sadness, frustration, hopelessness and disillusion out of each and every person interviewed. You can almost feel the air, the space and time around them. The writer completely distances herself from the voices, from the recordings, and lets these voices stream out like an endless, flowing river. Fractured and torn monologues fill the pages (only every now and then does Alexievich make her presence clear in order to emphasize a movement or a feeling with a small description in italics) and pure human consciousness is revealed in all its pain and suffering. Tolstoyan in scope and Dostoevskian in psychological insight, Svetlana Alexievich has written what feels like a tragic opera or composition of sorts. Boys in Zinc is a harrowing insight into one of penultimate events of the Cold War, and an important document on totalitarianism and violent imperialism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Sveltana Alexievich is among that rare breed of writers who has the distinction of inventing a genre. It isn't really oral history--the statements too concise, too prone to arrive at a well-expressed point for that and I recall a more careful reader pointing out a bit of repetitiveness in one of her other books: not the kind resulting from slopping editing but the kind that comes from a single mind articulating the same point. That said, the veterans, widows and parents of dead soldiers whose vo Sveltana Alexievich is among that rare breed of writers who has the distinction of inventing a genre. It isn't really oral history--the statements too concise, too prone to arrive at a well-expressed point for that and I recall a more careful reader pointing out a bit of repetitiveness in one of her other books: not the kind resulting from slopping editing but the kind that comes from a single mind articulating the same point. That said, the veterans, widows and parents of dead soldiers whose voices are committed to paper have the kind of detailed perspective that can only be the product of dogged but patient interviewing. I remember predictions that Afghanistan would be Russia's Viet Nam and many of the points made here, both by those who still support the war and those repulsed by it, are eerily familiar: the ineptitude of the military command, the complete ignorance of the people on whose lands and in whose villages the war was fought, the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe among the local populace, the bitterness of soldiers returning to a nation that has moved on (and is frequently critical of them) and the difficulty of reintegrating into society, and the grief over lost comrades. The inadequacy of the regret-to-inform visits feels the same, and drugs were even smuggled out of Afghanistan in coffins just as they were from Viet Nam. The same type of officers told the same kind of lies about mutilated bodies (remember Pat Tillman? The book is resonant of more recent conflicts, too). Certainly the Russian Army maintained a higher predilection for savagery against its recruits than the U.S. one. But for all the violence, physical and psychic, was is perhaps most chilling is that such similar lies were told, that they were going off to defend the nation, and that the country's ideals were at stake. Such as it ever was, wars conducted by young men and women in obedience to the lies told them by old men.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    This is a shocking book. About a war fought for limited reason and gain, in which 15,000 or so Soviet troops died and many more were injured, and some unknown number of Afghan's died (usually estimated at over 1 million). It shows the full unpleasantness of war, especially a war fought often by unprepared troops with terrible equipment, cynically manipulated and often terribly abused by their own side. It is often both unpleasant and truly disturbing to read. A comparison with Sebastian Junger's This is a shocking book. About a war fought for limited reason and gain, in which 15,000 or so Soviet troops died and many more were injured, and some unknown number of Afghan's died (usually estimated at over 1 million). It shows the full unpleasantness of war, especially a war fought often by unprepared troops with terrible equipment, cynically manipulated and often terribly abused by their own side. It is often both unpleasant and truly disturbing to read. A comparison with Sebastian Junger's book War is appropriate. Both books deal with the experiences of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. But whereas Junger's book looks only from the viewpoint of a small troop of American soldiers, Alexievich paints a wider canvas - including the views of civilian helpers in Afganistan, mothers and other members of Soviet society. Like Junger's book though, it includes no Afghan voices. Major cultural differences show. The American troops were many times better equipped and supported. The Soviet troops are often more poetic in their thinking and reflection on life and war, and for them always in the background, lurking, is a comparison with their images of the Great Patriotic War. The individuals in the book come across as a mixture of naive idealists, poetic souls, humanists, brutal bullies and murderers, and admirable people surviving difficult times. Perhaps this is always true in war. Their sense of betrayal when they come home is profound, and understandable. As the explanation of the court case at the end of the book indicates, documentary narrative is not the same as a verbatim recording and the author has edited the words and made choices as to what to include. As readers we each have to decide whether to trust Alexievich's interpretation, even though it mainly uses real words of real people. I don't think this is Alexievich's best - even so it is still 5 star material. However, I suggest you only pick this up when you are in the right frame of mind for a very disturbing read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paltia

    For a thoughtful and intelligent review read keen’s. I have been left speechless and devastated. This is the kind of book that makes me want to throw a brick through a window. Damn it all.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    The tile refers to the zinc coffins in which the dead from the Soviet war in Afghanistan were returned to their families. There was usually no initial contact: A military contingent would show up at the parents' or widow's door with a zinc coffin. Svetlana Alexievich received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 for her unique style of letting people speak for themselves. These included soldiers and civilians returned from the war, mothers, and widows. Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanis The tile refers to the zinc coffins in which the dead from the Soviet war in Afghanistan were returned to their families. There was usually no initial contact: A military contingent would show up at the parents' or widow's door with a zinc coffin. Svetlana Alexievich received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 for her unique style of letting people speak for themselves. These included soldiers and civilians returned from the war, mothers, and widows. Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War is not an easy book to read. The suffering, both from participants in the carnage and their loved ones left behind at home, is so extreme that I wonder if our troops have had similar experiences in the fifteen years we spent trying to keep Afghanistan free of the same mujaheddin that the Russians fought (and that we armed). One veteran writes:When you get home for demob[ilization] you have to report to the local recruiting office. A coffin was brought in while I was there—our 1st lieutenant, by sheer chance. "He died in the execution of his international duty," I read on the little brass plate, and remembered how he used to stumble along the corridor, blind drunk, and smash the sentry's jaw in. It happened regularly once a week. If you didn't keep out of the way you'd end up spitting your teeth out. There's not much humanity in a human being—that's what war taught me. If a man's hungry, or ill, he'll be cruel—and that's just about all humanity amounts to.Again and again, Alexievich's sources impart to the author the lessons they learned in what they saw as a hell on earth. As difficult a book as this is with its assaults on the emotions, it is a useful reminder that war has very little to do with patriotism or heroism or duty: It's all about survival in hell, when and if possible.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lubinka Dimitrova

    A soul-crushing narrative about the absurdness and futility of war. Young boys and girls died, children were orphaned, women were widowed, mothers lost their precious boys and girls, and for what? All wars are irrational, but this particular one was among the most terribly pointless wars ever. Humans ("Humans"?) are humanity's worst enemy, and books like this make me think that there's no hope for this planet. A soul-crushing narrative about the absurdness and futility of war. Young boys and girls died, children were orphaned, women were widowed, mothers lost their precious boys and girls, and for what? All wars are irrational, but this particular one was among the most terribly pointless wars ever. Humans ("Humans"?) are humanity's worst enemy, and books like this make me think that there's no hope for this planet.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Will

    We never learn about the reality of war. We never hear about smashed, liquefied skulls or melting flesh. We never hear about the 18 year old Soviet boys, the future of the nation, who were sent to their deaths indiscriminately. The Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989) is seldom written or spoken about anymore, often glossed over just as Vietnam is. The parallels between the wars are nauseating. Millions of conscripts sent to fight senseless wars to prop up broken ideologies, drugs everywhere, b We never learn about the reality of war. We never hear about smashed, liquefied skulls or melting flesh. We never hear about the 18 year old Soviet boys, the future of the nation, who were sent to their deaths indiscriminately. The Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989) is seldom written or spoken about anymore, often glossed over just as Vietnam is. The parallels between the wars are nauseating. Millions of conscripts sent to fight senseless wars to prop up broken ideologies, drugs everywhere, blown off limbs and PTSD. But even more tragically, it was a secret war the public knew nothing about. Unlike the constant TV coverage of Vietnam, the Soviet public was in the dark, oblivious to the destruction of a generation. The testimonies of the dead soldiers' mothers were numbing. I grasped the book tightly, each memory of a young, happy boy playing contrasting with his death and shipment home in a cold, sealed zinc coffin. I felt the anger of the veterans who were spat on and told they fought a needless and criminal war. I felt the anger of the nurses and other women workers who could never erase the unjustified stigma of sexual deviancy that followed them after Afghanistan. But it was the widows who had to explain why daddy was dead to their young children and the mother who lived at her son's grave that killed me. Oral history shows the personal side of war, never being able to forget the dried droplets of blood, the terrified Afghan girl with the dangling broken arm, the moment when you last saw your best friend before shrapnel shredded his life. Next time someone decides to send innocent young soldiers to their deaths, they should read this book. Hopefully, it will change their mind.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elo

    "It is a human right not to kill. Not to learn to kill. A right that is not recorded in a single constitution." "It is a human right not to kill. Not to learn to kill. A right that is not recorded in a single constitution."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    Scary. It's really scary -- but I think that everybody has to read at least some book by Svetlana. Upon reading it you get a sort of vaccination against blind support for whatever the government feeds you with ("help establish Bla in that poor country", "we can't just watch, we have to step in", ...). Read and see what war does to people. I don't think that it's specific to [former] USSR and Afganistan -- it rather generic. I won't be setting any rating -- the book is beyond this. It's not about Scary. It's really scary -- but I think that everybody has to read at least some book by Svetlana. Upon reading it you get a sort of vaccination against blind support for whatever the government feeds you with ("help establish Bla in that poor country", "we can't just watch, we have to step in", ...). Read and see what war does to people. I don't think that it's specific to [former] USSR and Afganistan -- it rather generic. I won't be setting any rating -- the book is beyond this. It's not about liking / disliking. It's the kind of medicine one has to take no matter how bitter it is.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jenia

    I'm so happy I finished it! Honestly it was probably a 5-star book but reading it filled me with so much тоска that I just can't bring myself to give it 5. Everyone should read it etc. I'm so happy I finished it! Honestly it was probably a 5-star book but reading it filled me with so much тоска that I just can't bring myself to give it 5. Everyone should read it etc.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marcella Wigg

    This is one of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. It consists almost purely of firsthand accounts of people affected by the Soviet side of the Soviet-Afghan War, from men and women sent abroad as soldiers or civilian employees to the mothers and widows of soldiers who died fighting the Mujahideen. I had read a little about the "USSR's Vietnam," as I've heard it called, but there are few accounts of war as affecting as those of the people on the ground, living through the conflict. The This is one of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. It consists almost purely of firsthand accounts of people affected by the Soviet side of the Soviet-Afghan War, from men and women sent abroad as soldiers or civilian employees to the mothers and widows of soldiers who died fighting the Mujahideen. I had read a little about the "USSR's Vietnam," as I've heard it called, but there are few accounts of war as affecting as those of the people on the ground, living through the conflict. The image that emerges from these accounts is not dissimilar to the experience of American GIs in Vietnam. Sent abroad by a government that justified what many would consider a war of aggression by saying that the opposing Cold War power would intervene if not for their own intervention, the soldiers found the reality of war was far uglier, and far more pointless, than they expected. Not only did they suffer in the theater of war, but they returned home to find a nation in which they were not considered heroes. Unlike their ancestors who had fought in World War II, the Afgantsy were widely considered pawns in an unnecessary war desired mainly by Party warmongers, and there were rumors about the riches they had taken with them from Afghanistan. Most of the firsthand experiences offer an image of war that is pretty universal: horror, youth stolen by serious injury or PTSD, extreme stress, and death. Every story basically centers on the same themes. But the diversity of perspectives is very moving, from mothers who constantly visit the graves of their sons to soldiers who feel alienated from society or the military due to their experiences to women who speak of the sexual politics of the war and the widows who debate whether they can ever remarry again. Even though there are so many parallels you can draw between the US-Vietnam War and the Soviet-Afghan War, there are interesting differences that appear here too. Soldiers had to find their own way home from Central Asia. The USSR, as a more closed society, did not have a media that reported on its dead the way the American media could report on Vietnam death tolls; people were said to be "doing their patriotic duty" when they died, a euphemism for death in combat. The Soviet Union had long used US imperialism as a mark against it on the world stage, and yet here it was, fighting its own war against local fighters on their own land, unable to find much success. I cried several times reading this, and was on the verge of tears constantly. It's a very moving account of the effects of conflict in general, and incredibly well-compiled by Alexievich. Highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I stayed home ill from work, and what better condition to finish off “Zinky Boys” by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize last year for her writing - “a monument to suffering.” The title refers to the zinc coffins used to ship the remains of Soviet soldiers from the nine-year war in Afghanistan. The coffins arrived sealed because sometimes just one body part was inside, or a shovelful of dirt to add heft. The warfare often involved land mines, and it was hard to get through four or five I stayed home ill from work, and what better condition to finish off “Zinky Boys” by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize last year for her writing - “a monument to suffering.” The title refers to the zinc coffins used to ship the remains of Soviet soldiers from the nine-year war in Afghanistan. The coffins arrived sealed because sometimes just one body part was inside, or a shovelful of dirt to add heft. The warfare often involved land mines, and it was hard to get through four or five pages before someone new had lost his legs or arms or head, or was simply blown to pieces. Only some pieces, and not always the right ones, made it into the coffins. “After it was all over we collected up our boys in bits and pieces, even scraping them from the sides of the APC. We spread out a tarpaulin, their common grave, to try and sort out which leg or fragment of skull belonged to whom. We weren’t issued identification tags because of the ‘danger’ of them falling into enemy hands. This was an undeclared war, you see - we were fighting a war that wasn’t happening.” (p. 170 Private, Intelligence Corps) What struck me most about this book was the terrible sorrow of mothers who lost their children. Their grief was powerful and tragic. When Alexievich won the Nobel Prize the committee noted her work isn’t a history of events but a “history of emotions ... an emotional world,” and that is clear here and also in her book “Voices of Chernobyl.” Beyond the emotional impact, the most striking thing was the veterans’ and their loved ones’ sense of betrayal by a pointless war poorly fought. The pain and emotional upheaval makes the book uneasy reading. The format helps, however, consisting of short interviews with veterans or loved ones left behind. When Alexievich won the Nobel Prize last year the committee cited her use of “polyphonic writings,” which refers to the mix of voices that constitute her books. She rarely intrudes; she conveys. If there is a weak spot it is that the book is occasionally monotonous in tone, partly because the veterans all have a similar story to tell. But the women medics and nurses do help with a different perspective, as do the widows and mothers. I was drawn to this book because I was overwhelmed by “Voices of Chernobyl” a couple years ago. That was the better book, in my opinion, because it seemed more diverse in its story-telling.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Surabhi Chatrapathy

    One can write about the beautiful things about this life with a certain ease, but to sit face to face with the vile side humanity is a soul wrenching job. Svetlana Alexievich's Boys in Zinc is an ode to the worst of what human beings are capable of. The book tells the stories of Soviet soldiers who took part in the Soviet war and occupation of Afghanistan. The book speaks of the illusion the Soviet Union created, the indoctrination the youth and the people were subjected to and the disillusionme One can write about the beautiful things about this life with a certain ease, but to sit face to face with the vile side humanity is a soul wrenching job. Svetlana Alexievich's Boys in Zinc is an ode to the worst of what human beings are capable of. The book tells the stories of Soviet soldiers who took part in the Soviet war and occupation of Afghanistan. The book speaks of the illusion the Soviet Union created, the indoctrination the youth and the people were subjected to and the disillusionment they are hit in the face with once they actually see the war. The uniqueness of her writing comes in how she brings together snippets of interviews. And in these interviews, they reveal life altering truths, that stun you, that stump you and break you. These are people who have participated, experienced and witnessed the war and it's aftermath. I finished this book and I felt the world around me collapse. Nothing seems to hold meaning over the crude reality of their life. There is a darkness attached to their life that seems all consuming. I don't know how Alexievich finds it in her to seek these stories and live through them. It takes a level of commitment and compassion that I can't even comprehend. Please read this one. It's difficult, it's gut wrenching, but this is the history we are leaving behind

  23. 4 out of 5

    Delara H F

    The first "polyphonic" book I've read and also my first Alexievich read! I loved the way it was written. Every monologue has its own tragic way to take you on a breathtaking journey through the horrifying war. It's a documentary about the war between Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The first "polyphonic" book I've read and also my first Alexievich read! I loved the way it was written. Every monologue has its own tragic way to take you on a breathtaking journey through the horrifying war. It's a documentary about the war between Soviet Union and Afghanistan.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gopa Thampi

    This is my second reading from Svetlana Alexievich’s impressive oeuvre; the first being Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. As many reviewers here have observed, Zinky Boys is a very difficult and disturbing work to read. Alexievich possesses the magical ingredients to concoct an alchemy which converts staccato voices to a kaleidoscopic visual shrapnel that not just explodes in your mind but embed deep into your soul. The polyvocality of her narrators provides multiple vantage points to ha This is my second reading from Svetlana Alexievich’s impressive oeuvre; the first being Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. As many reviewers here have observed, Zinky Boys is a very difficult and disturbing work to read. Alexievich possesses the magical ingredients to concoct an alchemy which converts staccato voices to a kaleidoscopic visual shrapnel that not just explodes in your mind but embed deep into your soul. The polyvocality of her narrators provides multiple vantage points to have an unforgettable immersive experience in the theater of a brutal, bloody and mindless war (as all wars tend to be). But it is those voices that sink their deep hooks into your soul - ruminations of guilt, curses of betrayal, wails from the wombs and the silence of an immeasurable loss. There is no scope for redemption. No attempt to foist a facade of false hope. Those voices are laden with the visceral fear of a cornered life and they lash with merciless ferocity. This is not just an oral history of monumental loss and suffering, it is a live testimony to a massacre of hope, aspirations and dreams. As the Persian Sufi mystic and poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi so poignantly said: "the wound is the place where the light enters you". And in Alexievich's straight-from-the-guts prose, pain becomes the lodestar for truth.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pavel

    Another "documentary novel" by Svetlana Alexievich this time tells about Soviet Afgan War. Real monologues of ordinary people who participated in that war - soldiers, officers, medics. Their stories, impressions, post-war syndroms. ...How propaganda posters were delivered and placed before any medical equipment even arrived while war was already started ...How soldiers (USSR had no professional army, so it were 18 years old boys, taken right from their schools and dropped into fire) was calling fo Another "documentary novel" by Svetlana Alexievich this time tells about Soviet Afgan War. Real monologues of ordinary people who participated in that war - soldiers, officers, medics. Their stories, impressions, post-war syndroms. ...How propaganda posters were delivered and placed before any medical equipment even arrived while war was already started ...How soldiers (USSR had no professional army, so it were 18 years old boys, taken right from their schools and dropped into fire) was calling for their mamas in the hospital and nurses were pretending to be their mothers to calm imjured down ...How those boys were buying hepatitus urine and drinking it to be invalid out of the army ...How few years later those soldiers who stayed alive forced newly arrived boys to lick their boots and wash their underwear etc etc etc Dozens of stories like that are the pieces of of one puzzle, which is main theme of this book - those boys turned out to be public enemy and scape goats against this war. Society started to hate them, trying to get rid of them while those who started the war and was really responsible for all the atrocities that happened, they bear no resposibility up untill now. For me though this book was less interesting then Chernobyl one. Mainly because I was left with feeling that these were only SOME stories of some people and I know that other people could tell another stories of another kind. This is usually with wars. You can describe what in Russian is called Trench Truth - little details of the ways war goes, everyday life of soldiers with its dirt and death and blood. or you can go with heroism and stuff. Or you can try to enlight political aspects. Usually there's place for all those things, but if you go with only one IMO you're limiting your work With Cheronobyl she had disaster generated by technology and people who suffered from it. And that was enough. In this book she had people who suffered but nothing more and when they heard they fought for nothing and there were nothing else then this suffering (I had such impression from the book as well), they just sued Alexievich (not that I support thoese sues in any way whatsoever).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Berit Lundqvist

    This might be the most heart-breaking book that I’ve ever read. A choir of voices gives you the uncensored realities of war. If you, like me, live in a country which hasn’t been to war for a very long time, the ability to imagine a war gets lost somewhere on the way. There is no one left to remember, no memories to share, and all the old tales are gone. Sure, some people go to war as UN-soldiers, volunteer in the French Légion Étrangère or another foreign military force. But they are few, very fe This might be the most heart-breaking book that I’ve ever read. A choir of voices gives you the uncensored realities of war. If you, like me, live in a country which hasn’t been to war for a very long time, the ability to imagine a war gets lost somewhere on the way. There is no one left to remember, no memories to share, and all the old tales are gone. Sure, some people go to war as UN-soldiers, volunteer in the French Légion Étrangère or another foreign military force. But they are few, very few. Not many enough to keep the collective memory alive. Therefore it’s probably extra painful for people like me who “doesn’t do wars anymore” to read a book like Zinky boys. For everyone else closer to a war, I guess it is old news. The book tells a story from the Soviet occupational power’s point of view. Privates, officers, medical personnel, and administrative personnel all tell approximately the same gruesome story of betrayal and disbelief. And the mothers at home, their stories. The mothers who had to receive the sealed zinc coffins with their sons and daughters (or parts of them, or coffins just filled with sand). (Hence the title “Zinky boys”.) Most of the stories were so terrible that I had to digest them little by little. This was my first book By Svetlana Alexievich. She is a pure genius. I’m so glad she was awarded the Nobel Prize so her books will have the opportunity to reach a wider audience. “Zinky Boys” should be mandatory reading for everyone who is in the position to ever start a war or to send people into war. And the saddest thing of them all is that history is repeating itself again at this very moment, this time in Syria. When will they ever learn?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    These are almost unbearable accounts of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But to be honest, there’s not a lot in this book that surprised me. As with most accounts of war I’ve read, the soldiers either told themselves that they were doing their duty, and/or thought of the war as a personal challenge of courage, will, etc.; their experiences in combat were horrific and far removed from whatever justifications and platitudes their government offered; and the reader can’t help thinking that those who s These are almost unbearable accounts of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But to be honest, there’s not a lot in this book that surprised me. As with most accounts of war I’ve read, the soldiers either told themselves that they were doing their duty, and/or thought of the war as a personal challenge of courage, will, etc.; their experiences in combat were horrific and far removed from whatever justifications and platitudes their government offered; and the reader can’t help thinking that those who simply died were luckier than those who lost arms or legs or other body parts, or vital functions, and family members of the dead or wounded. There is one thing that I found a little surprising. A former student of mine who was also a US military veteran memorably described Afghanistan to me as ‘a country of yellow dirt and graves…nothing more.’ But a lot of the soldiers and medics who are interviewed here mention, almost wistfully, Afghanistan’s natural beauty, and in one of these accounts a soldier who lies dying names the individual things he sees- “mountains…tree…bird…sky…”- until the end.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    It's impossible to convey how profound this book is. If I could recommend it to everyone, I would. Through stories that are clear, honest, and heartbreaking, we experience the Soviet war in Afghanistan through the eyes of soldiers, nurses, and civilians—all of them grappling to make sense of why they were sent to war and the toll it took on their lives. Perhaps harder to deal with are the stories from mothers and widows who can't make their sacrifices add up to the silence and shame heaped on th It's impossible to convey how profound this book is. If I could recommend it to everyone, I would. Through stories that are clear, honest, and heartbreaking, we experience the Soviet war in Afghanistan through the eyes of soldiers, nurses, and civilians—all of them grappling to make sense of why they were sent to war and the toll it took on their lives. Perhaps harder to deal with are the stories from mothers and widows who can't make their sacrifices add up to the silence and shame heaped on the veterans of this war. I have no connection to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and neither do I have a connection to America's war in Vietnam. The introduction draws a parallel between the way veterans of both wars were treated, and that is a powerful bond. But on a deeper level, Zinky Boys lays bare the cynicism and craven nature of a government that is willing to send soldiers and civilians into almost-certain death with little regard for their safety, the safety of civilians, and the long-term prospects for peace. In an era where proxy wars are still being waged, Zinky Boys is prescient and damning.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    This is the first book I've read by this year's Nobel Laureate and it's some of the grimmest reading I've ever done. The approach appears to be relatively hands off from Alexievich as, apart from some diary entries at the beginning and a postscript at the end, it's told in the voices of people who were involved in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, whether as participants or as mothers or spouses or civilian workers. There has obviously been a lot of crafting involved in the presentation of their vo This is the first book I've read by this year's Nobel Laureate and it's some of the grimmest reading I've ever done. The approach appears to be relatively hands off from Alexievich as, apart from some diary entries at the beginning and a postscript at the end, it's told in the voices of people who were involved in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, whether as participants or as mothers or spouses or civilian workers. There has obviously been a lot of crafting involved in the presentation of their voices, though; it's not just straight transcripts. There's a cumulative effect as the catalogue of horrors is presented unrelentingly and although it seems a little repetitive at times there are variations in viewpoint and attitude that keep it compelling (if unremittingly awful). This is a hugely important book but I'd hesitate to actually recommend it to someone.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    Hell meets Heaven in this new Nobel Prize winner's book. Heaven is the quality of the first-person narratives Alexievich drew (à la Studs Terkel) from people involved with the Soviet Union's Afghanistan war, at the front or on the home front. Hell is what they describe. I could only take so much of the Hell. Every public discussion or speech on war (including campaign appearances and debates) should begin with the reading aloud of one or two of these narratives (or similar ones). Every member of Hell meets Heaven in this new Nobel Prize winner's book. Heaven is the quality of the first-person narratives Alexievich drew (à la Studs Terkel) from people involved with the Soviet Union's Afghanistan war, at the front or on the home front. Hell is what they describe. I could only take so much of the Hell. Every public discussion or speech on war (including campaign appearances and debates) should begin with the reading aloud of one or two of these narratives (or similar ones). Every member of a War or Defense Department should be required to read one or two at the beginning of each work day. They only take a minute or two each. But they will definitely chill speech, as First Amendment absolutists say.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.