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One Soldier's War

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  606 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
One Soldier’s War is a visceral and unflinching memoir of a young Russian soldier’s experience in the Chechen wars that brilliantly captures the fear, drudgery, chaos, and brutality of modern combat. An excerpt of the book was hailed by Tibor Fisher in the Guardian as “right up there with Catch-22 and Michael Herr’s Dispatches ,” and the book won Russia’s inaugural Debut P ...more
Hardcover, 395 pages
Published January 21st 2008 by Grove Press (first published 2006)
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
If I were to direct the film version of this war memoir I'll start with a Tarantino-like scene, really strong, the kind that would make moviegoers regret coming in late from the long line at the popcorn counter. Act 1, Scene 1 would be from pages 138 to 139 of the book. Close up shots of the haggard, dirty faces of the young, mostly teenage Russian soldiers. Not too far are the enemy Chechens--

"Then the Chechens start killing our guys they took prisoner. They shout from the end of the street to
Bill Purkayastha
Jan 19, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book. I wanted to read it very badly. And, eventually, I got hold of a copy, and I did.

I was - quite frankly - acutely disappointed.

For starters, let me say that I've always had a keen nose for the smell of bullshit, and my nostrils began twitching almost at once.

As I said, I do know something about the Russian army, and the brutal treatment of conscripts by their seniors, called dedovschina, is nothing unknown to me. So, I have no problem with believing that some pretty b
Edward Lengel
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military-history
Superb, and one of the best war memoirs I've read. Babchenko's account realistically reveals the modern Russian army and its wars in Chechnya--but fundamentally his perspective rings true for soldiers' experiences of every nation and every generation.
Apr 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian, war
This is a hell of book, a first hand account of an 18 year old conscript in the Chechen war of 1996, torn from his mother's apron strings and brutalised beyond belief by both the training and the fighting. The most telling effect of the horror is that Babchenko chooses to return to the battlefield as a contract soldier to fight in the second conflict, not because he believes in the war but because it has become part of him and he cannot stay away. Later, still, he goes back as a journalist and s ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: war
Maybe it's the Russian translation, but the book just doesn't flow very well. It's an autobiography about the Chechan wars. The narrator is around 18 at the beginning of the book. Right off the bat, he sees some gruesome things (dead bodies in the drinking water, eating a dog because they are hungry, a man strangled by his own intestines) and discusses how they are starved and beaten during training by their own officers. The military sucked there, but civilian life wasn't all that great either. ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sincere and Revealing

Chechen war was always a mystery for most people, this book sheds light on it and the Russian army. Russian army is a paper tiger, behind it lies a miserable rag tag band of misfits abandoned by their country and their command. Sad... Thank you Arkady for sharing what was left of your sanity with us
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Un libro sobre la guerra, pero no desde la ciencia o desde la épica. Unos relatos desde lo humano.

Las guerras de Chechenia relatadas desde el punto de vista de un conscripto ruso que participó en ambas. Un libro que nos muestra toda la miseria de la guerra, muy lejos de obras que pretenden cubrirla de gloria.

Un libro del que es imposible salir incólume, más aún cuando la guerra y los conflictos son parte de lo que estudias y de lo que aprendés día a día.

Comparto dos pasajes del libr
Chaos Xem
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't believe that such war was as he described. Never thought such conflict was so bad. The amount of pain, fear and lack of hope it's almost unbelievable. At times I thought: "This can't be true", but it was. The disorder the russian army has is astonishing. There's no control or training for newcomers, almost everybody is drinking vodka, applying dedovshchina (a very painful form of initiation), stealing, not doing their jobs, death here and there, etc. A lot of this happened to young gu ...more
Jan Pozivil
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book. It's message is a modern day account of everyday life of a soldier. It shows how the massive lack of organisation of the army, indifference of its officers as well as common soldiers turns every one into an animal like being, relying only on one's instincts and the only thing that is for sure, that everybody dies. Even those who survive are scared, they become outcast of the society which they despise for the lack of caring. If your son is thinking about a career in any kind of secur ...more
Maybe some things got lost in translation, but I had difficulty following this book. It starts out in the 1st Chechnya War, and then quite suddenly it's the 2nd war? Babchenko doesn't fully invest in giving better details and stories about his fellow soldiers either. He would mention one soldier and then 20 pages later would randomly run into them in a new place. Did they get transferred? Did you get transferred? What happened in between. I really wanted to like this book, but it isn't the grand ...more
Campbell Mcaulay
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reads like Sven Hassell

One Soldier's War tells of Arkady Babchenko's experiences having been conscripted into the Russian army to fight in the Chechen wars. He spent the first war on a barracks on the Chechen border and the second war fighting in the country itself.

I found it a little shocking that such a bitterly contested regional conflict should have passed me by as did this one. I like to think that I follow world affairs - not particularly closely, I admit - and yes I was aware that there
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"It's very frightening," Babchenko tells us, "that the war is in color." Not black-and-white, like the heroic WWII movies he and his fellow soldiers had grown up on, but in the brilliant colors of the beautiful Caucasus mountains, where not one but two appallingly brutal wars have been fought in the past two decades. In "One Soldier's War," Babchenko, writing in the tradition of war and camp writers such as Tolstoy, Babel, Solzhenitsyn, and Shalamov, transforms his own and his friends' horrifyin ...more
AdultNonFiction Teton County Library
Jun 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Teton County Library Call No: 947.5208 BABCHENKO
Kevin's rating: 4 stars

In 1994, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tiny mountain Republic of Chechnya attempted to take advantage of the disarray that existed throughout the USSR. The mostly Muslim Chechens were anxious to end decades of Russian domination over their lands, language, culture and customs. Accordingly, Chechnya declared its independence from the Russian Federation, kicking off a bitter struggle that has lasted fo
Previous TCL Reviews
In 1994, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tiny mountain Republic of Chechnya attempted to take advantage of the disarray that existed throughout the USSR. The mostly Muslim Chechens were anxious to end decades of Russian domination over their lands, language, culture and customs. Accordingly, Chechnya declared its independence from the Russian Federation, kicking off a bitter struggle that has lasted for over 15 years.
The Russian government claimed that the Chechen secessi
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, literature
You won't learn much about Chechnya or the Chechnya war from it. It is actually about the Russian army - how it looks like from the vantage point of the ordinary soldier, about its institutionalized violence (dedovshchina), poverty, incompetence and irrationality.

I have contradicting thoughts about this book. It sustains the myth of war as a masculine and professional endeavour; rough, violent, but somehow virtous. Its one-sidedness is often striking. On the other hand, the book is written skill
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Important perspective showing what war looks like behind the dry historic narrative. Extremely gory and wholly believable.
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia, autobiography, war
Great account of both wars in Chechnya, from a Russian journalist who, for reasons unknown to him, volunteered for the second, and then came back as a journalist to report on Chechnya after the war (spoiler: people still die in droves, but Russia just fakes a layer of fake peace on top of reality).

As it's more therapy than novel the structure is 'patchy', the author wrote what he had to write, with little regard for 'setting up scene', or whether the stories are connected. Since this is reality,
Apr 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a very sad and true tale of life in modern day Russia. That is, life, if you are a conscript in the Russian Federal Army. The author laments days, turning into weeks, turning into months, turning in to years of misery at the hand of sadistic senior, non and commissioned officers. The practice of Dedovshchina (described below) having thought to predate 1917's Bolshovic Revolution, has kept the Russian military in chains for the past 240 years. Indeed had old man winter not snuffed out bot ...more
Olivia Riddell
Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: war
"Fear is exhausting." Arkady Babchenko truly illuminates the darkness and fear of being a Russian soldier during the Chechen Wars. This book is definitely not a light read as the author recounts his brutal and deeply disturbing experiences in the army. A recurring theme I saw in this book, for which can probably be seen in many soldier memoirs, is confusion and misunderstanding. No one knew why they were fighting or saw any sense in it. It was definitely an enlightening and thought-provoking boo ...more
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: men-in-combat, russia
A hauntingly stark, but captivating read of a Russian Soldier's experience in the first and second Chechen wars. Arkady Arkadyovich is an educated, insightful author whose tale covers his two tours as a conscript and contract Soldier. His experience in the Russian Army is at once familiar and foreign. Familiar in the confusion and uncertainty in combat, the everlasting camaraderie of Soldiering, the love between Soldiers, the difficulty of recounting combat to those who have not experienced it, ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Probably the most brutal book I've ever read, and an excellent war memoir. A substantial part the book deals with the author's experience behind the front lines, waiting to be sent to war. Ironically, I found this part of the book the most terrifying, as it describes in detail the bullying and beating (sometimes to death) of the soldiers by their own officers. The complete lack of any discipline, the outright barbarism and the total corruption of this rag-tag gang posing as an army is shocking, ...more
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, russia
Babchenko nato nel 1977 ci racconta nella prima parte del libro la sua esperienza in Cecenia vissuta come soldato di leva appena diciottenne durante il primo conflitto (1991-1996).
Nella seconda parte del libro ci racconterà (anche se gli episodi sono della stessa drammaticità) il suo ritorno in Cecenia in occasione del secondo conflitto (1999-2006) come militare a contratto.
La drammaticità che non sempre si percepisce nelle brevi telecronache o negli articoli letti di sfuggita sui giornali trasu
Feb 09, 2015 rated it liked it
A very strong revealing testament to the Russian experience of war. I do feel that the stories (especially the longer ones - the shorter ones were much more effective) were somewhat redundant and repetitive. I would have liked to read about more individual episodes and events, rather than the same endless description of cold, suffering, fear, hunger, brutality, and listlessness, though I'm sure that is the point Babchenko is making. Many of his thoughts and conclusions echo those expressed by Ju ...more
Antonio Ramos
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Relatos autobiográficos muy sinceros y críticos del funcionamiento del ejército ruso. El desprecio por la vida humana, por las más básicas reglas de humanidad se manifiestan no sólo , como sería previsible , con el enemigo , en este caso los chechenos, sino con los propios miembros de las fuerzas armadas. La Rusia que trasluce tras esa oficialidad corrupta hasta la médula , esos cargos intermedios también en su medida corrompidos , y esos soldados rasos preocupados exclusivamente por la superviv ...more
Oct 06, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is a Russian version of "The Things They Carried," set in Chechnya instead of Vietnam. It has the same pros and cons. The story is absolutely gut-wrenching. It's bad enough the author sees his friends killed in combat, but the brutal beatings he endures at the hands of his own comrades are just mind boggling. It seems like he feared his superiors more than the Chechens. My main problem is that the book is very stream of consciousness. There are constant time jumps and you never know wh ...more
Jun 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a true memoir or a history. It is a fictionalized composite view. Some of the authors own events, some of his comrades, and some (by his own admission) composites of individuals and events.

Don't get me wrong. It is close to a memoir. The problem is that the reader can't tell which parts are fact, which are fiction, and which are opinion. The authors opinion is evident when you read the book. And if the author is so against war, why did he sign on as a contract soldier for the second war?

Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Od pewnego czasu szukałem takiej książki, by zrozumieć jaka jest wojna dla żołnierza. Z każdą kartką tej strasznej rzeczywistości człowiek zdawał sobie coraz bardziej, jakie szaleństwo ogarniało bohatera. Książka dotknęła moją estetykę bardziej, gdy uzmysłowiłem sobie, że żołnierze są w moim wieku. Że gdy ja piłem wina z kumplami oni zabijali w sobie człowieczeństwo.

Przerażająca treść ale i bardzo ciekawa. W mojej estetyce ta książka jest wyśmienita i szczerze polecam.

Wojna jest złem.
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian, nonfiction
A terrifying account of the wars in Chechnya. Babchenko very artistically captures the futility of those wars in particular, bringing you into the soul of a starved, beaten, and thoroughly frightened soldier. The short vignettes of war in each chapter are almost poetic in their brutality. It baffles me that so many young Russians are a product of this conflict and that the Caucasus region seems to have changed so little.
Adebayo Adegbembo
You don’t tell anyone the truth any more. You can’t explain what war really is to someone who has never been there, just as you can’t explain green to a blind person or a man can’t know what it’s like to give birth. They simply don’t have the necessary sensory organs. You can’t explain or understand war - all you can do is experience it.
- Excerpts.
Jun 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Memoir of a Russian private soldier who fought as a draftee in the first Chechen War and as a volunteer in the second. Spends much time discussing the brutal hazing of younger conscripts by older soldiers. One gets the impression that the Russian Army spent more time and energy fighting itself than the Chechens.
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Arkady Babchenko fought as an 18-year-old conscript in the first Chechen War in 1996-8 and then volunteered to return for six months in 2000 during the second Chechen War. A law graduate, he currently works in Moscow as a journalist on the oppositional newspaper "Novaya Gazeta".
More about Arkady Babchenko...