Jim's Reviews > War's Unwomanly Face

War's Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich
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Oct 06, 2012

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bookshelves: military-non-fiction, womens-_studies, world-war-2, soviet-union
Read from July 28 to October 06, 2012

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.
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Misericordia ❣ There is little statistics. Many women would hide the fact that they were in the army. The would only start talking about it at the end of their lives, when their falimies would be an accomplished fact and any sort of slander would be sort of moot point.


Misericordia ❣ So understandably very little would be known for a statistical fact


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