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Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories

(Голоса утопии #2)

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  2,111 ratings  ·  357 reviews
Stunning stories about what it was like to be a Soviet child during the upheaval and horror of the Second World War, from Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich

I finished first grade in May of 41, and my parents took me for the summer to the Pioneer camp. I came there, went for a swim once, and two days later the war began. German planes flew over, and we shouted "Hurray!" We
Published July 2nd 2019 by Penguin Classics (first published 1985)
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Amanda English translation available from Penguin House publishing July 2nd, 2019

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4.47  · 
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 ·  2,111 ratings  ·  357 reviews

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"I am a person without childhood. Instead of childhood, I had war."

This is undeniably the most horrifying book I've ever read. It's the first book that actually made my heart physically ache. Reading it was like taking a razor blade to my soul. It was like slowly tearing my heart into bleeding pieces.
How can we preserve our planet on which little girls are supposed to sleep in their beds and not lie dead on the road with unplaited pigtails? So that childhood would never again be called war-ti
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soviet, belarus
The stories of Soviet children during WWII. Really just want to stare at the wall for a few hours now.

What gets you isn't just the stories themselves, which range from bittersweet to hair-whiteningly horriffic, but that basically the only thing she tells us about their current lives is their profession. All these traumatized children grew - had to grow - up into functioning adults, "ordinary" members of society, carrying all this with them for decades, burying it, normalizing it.

Now I've told yo
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disturbingly sad accounts by children who survived WW2 in the USSR.
Mikhail Yukhnovskiy
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I feel that we, in Russia, have all become somewhat too used to the 9th of May celebrations of the Victory in the 1941-45 Great War . And the war seems less real year after year. The veterans are dying off, of ilnesses and age.

This book returns one to the raw grief and suffering, remembered by the people who were children during the war.

When reading this book I found myself very nearly crying, more times than I ever did before. When reading you feel pure HATRED to those who started the war and
Maine Colonial
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received a free digital review copy from the publisher, via NetGalley.

Imagine that you are a toddler, or maybe as old as 10 or so. You and your brothers and sisters and your family and friends are living an ordinary life, except that your father is away on military service. One day, foreign soldiers rumble in on trucks and tanks and begin shooting everyone, mostly women and children. You get away, but your mother is dead, along with most people you know. Or maybe you got lucky and you, maybe w
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this as part of the Nobel prize hype & therefore have mixed feelings about it.

For one, it is a book that has you shaken. It's comprised of a 100 or so stories told by people who were children 2 to 15 years old during the WWII in Belarus. Although they're short, I couldn't read more than 10 stories in one sitting.

To say they are horrifying is an understatement; more like, they make you numb. Their similarity is striking - nearly all of these children have witnessed their family and neigh
Emilija Topalzoleva
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am not sure what is more heartbreaking about this book.. the stories that are terrifying and yet true or the fact that children lived with these stories being part of their lives.
From all the books I have read about WWII, fiction and non-fiction, this one especially was so hard for reading and also so morbid, sad and in the same time disturbing. I can't find all the words to explain what feelings this book aroused in me. You want to read it and know what those people survived and yet it distu
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My heart has been broken and mended for almost every chapter. The little boy who, being as starved as the rest of his family, suggests they try to cook his most precious belonging, a toy duck for dinner. The kids who had witnessed their own family being taken away and massacred. The children who didn't have the childhood they deserved. The worst thing is that this costly and brutal kind of war still exists. These were the Alan Kurdis and Omran Daqneeshs of WWII. An exceedingly powerful book abou ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-history
This is a 2019 translation of a book published in the former Soviet Union in 1985, long before the author won the Nobel Prize.

This is a good book, and worth reading, but not enjoyable.

I did not find this book as terrifying as the online excerpts (in The New York Times here and The Paris Review here) of the author's book of interviews with Chernobyl survivors, it's still pretty damn scary, even if I believe that the interviews were edited for political orthodoxy by Soviet authorities. Which is to
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Svetlana Alexievich brings to live the memories of World War II's children as a child perspective. This is a very good reference book for social studies. The memories are vivid and painful, but Svetlana's preserve these memories to keep in mind to never forget the impact of the war on people lives.

#LastWitnesses #NetGalley
Uyen Le
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simple yet sensational, mình cho 4.5*
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a fan of this author. I love the way she brings her unlikely voices together, out of obscurity and into the light, how she pieces together truths and memories to create a patchwork quilt that tells a whole new story. After reading the Unwomanly Face of War and The End of the Soviet Man, I was expecting something both sad and brutal, but also curiously educational and inspiring.

In this case, it seems that even Alexievich cannot find a way out of the pure horror that her interviewees describe
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
At first I read this book wrong - I read it like a history book. And it is, but this is oral history. There are few hard facts about WWII in Soviet. There's no map at the beginning, no overview of the campaigns, no timelines or information. And this left me a bit confused. It still did at the end and I docked a star. A map at the very least would have been helpful, especially since many of the snippets mention place names and I had to look them up to see if we were in Poland or Belarus or Russia ...more
Donna Hines
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc
Last Witnesses will have you asking one question," What if history repeats itself?"
How will these children cope, how will families endure another separation, how will the terrors of those god awful days be healed?
The stories are gut wrenching reality of the dark side of humanity, evil, and dictatorship by an authoritarian leader who sought after attention, power, control more than he sought after peace, love, dignity, and community.
The children of WWII and the pain and trauma they witnessed may
Ana-Maria Bujor
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I've discovered this author quite recently and have since kept on looking for her books. Like the other ones I've read, this one also is a collection of memories of people who went through tough times, more specifically World War 2 and the Nazi invasion. These are all quite short and maybe this is why I felt they were a bit less powerful than the other ones I've read, but they are also a great examples of both how resourceful and resilient children can be during war, as well as of what trauma do ...more
Ali Hussein
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ioan Mosincat
Aug 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
How wrong is it to enjoy such a book? Even though it's one of the best books I've read, it's hard to recommend it. It's not just touching, but gruesome and heart-breaking.

Approximately 100 stories (first person accounts) make you question humanity and its actions. This war ended their childhood, as one of the survivors put it. But that's a very mild way of looking at it.

So if you have the stomach, go read it. You won't regret it; or you might will. Most probably both.
Juan Ignacio
It's a collection of heartbreaking stories about war children. It's hard not to feel overwhelmed by their experience. The book manages to make you walk on their shoes, feeling the despair and frustration of those broken lifes.
It's even harder to read about war from the children's view...
I have family members who were forced out of their homes and sent to Siberia by Stalin, later to be released and left homeless and stateless once the tides turned on the USSR In 1941, which has caused me to neglect to think or really learn about the actual toll that WW2 took on the USSR in general. My WW2 interests have most often been focused on Nazi crimes against Jewish populations in the USSR, but I never really stopped to also think about how the non-Jewish and non-collaborating population ...more
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, she was lauded for “her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”  I can’t say anything as good as that.  I don’t think anyone could.  I feel foolish for trying, but I’ll tell you what I can.  Last Witnesses, originally published in 1985, is without preamble other than a quote and a question:  the one referencing millions of Soviet children who died during WWII on the Eastern Front, and the othe ...more
Glenn  Coltharp
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received a complimentary ARC copy of this book through NetGalley from Random House Publishing Group. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Thank you to Random House, NetGalley, and of course Svetlana Alexievich for the honor to receive and read an ARC of this book!

This book is absolutely heart-wrenching but the stories are all so raw, real, and puts the reader in each of these Witnesses shoes. It’s really amazing that all these Witnesses were individually interviewed, an
Diane S ☔
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5000-2019, lor-2019
Originally released in Russia in the eighties, the translated copy is soon to be released here for what I believe is the first time. If you've read others by this author you know she gathers up first hand accounts of various events and catastrophies, then arranged them with little or no change. This book is a heartbreaker as most are when children are concerned. She interviews the now grown people, eliciting from them there memories of war, the Nazi invasion of Russia. There are a range of ages, ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
(Note: I received an ARC of this newly-translated work courtesy of NetGalley)

"The collected interviews in "Last Witnesses" will simultaneously make one marvel at the power of human endurance, provide an even fuller picture of the nightmarish and destructive disruption of war, and may possibly make one a pacifist by the time they're finished reading - for no one must undergo the horrors recorded here, much less children. Alexievich has crafted a powerful work by shining light on a perspective of
Արտյոմ Գրիգորյան
The book tells the most cruel part of the Great Patriotic War (during WW2) that we might not find in textbooks of history.
Nobel Prize laureate, Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich’s “The Last Witnesses” should be read in whisper and with closed eyes as it will be difficult to control the tremble of voice and tears.
Each story’s fraud and suffering that you can find in book parallel stands with the hope of peace.
The style of writing is so realistic for ones with weak nervers you shouldn t open t
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Last Witnesses
By Svetlana Alexievich
Last Witnesses is an emotion-filled collection of Russian children during World War ll. History comes to life through the words of these pages and makes one reflect on the ugliness war brings. I think that the only thing to better this experience would be to have an introduction to the memoirs. I think this was a great collection to read.
I was provided a copy of this title through NetGalley in exchange for my opinion.
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely horrifying, this book is a compilation of many interviews Alexievich conducted of children of WWII. I love this style of telling the story, but through the memories of children what is said and inferred is heartbreaking. However, I don’t know of a single WWII book that would make one more compassionate to those who are present day refugees than reading the terror of living through war and the lasting impact of it on past civilian children.
Janilyn Kocher
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Last Witnesses is a compelling read of Russian and Ukrainian children's experiences during WWII. The author compiled their stories with no embellishments. Many are just one or two pages, but the impact is immeasurable. The stories are dark, horrific, and absolutely appalling. This book is such an important contribution to WWII history as most have never heard of the atrocities committed against women and children by the Germans. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance read.
Gaby Trevino
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is as fascinating as it is scary and terrible. Svetlana Alexievich once again gives voice to the "last witnesses" of the second world war, this time all the tales come from kids who survived and their terrible stories.

While you are reading Alexievich has this brilliant way to make you, not only feel for them but feel with them, their fear, their hunger and in very rare moments their happiness. This book had me super invested, I just couldn't put it down.
Alan Addison
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is page after page of horror beyond most people's comprehension and for that reason and that reason alone I cannot recommend it highly enough.

As I wrote in my review of 'The Unwomanly face of War', the real tragedy of this book - as with many others - is that the people who would benefit most by reading it are the ones least likely to ever pick it up.

Anyone with the means to read this book should do so.
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Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present-day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own distinctive nonfiction genre, which gathers a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. Her works include War’s Unwomanly Face (1985), Las ...more

Other books in the series

Голоса утопии (5 books)
  • War's Unwomanly Face
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  • Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
  • Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets
“How can we preserve our planet on which little girls are supposed to sleep in their beds, and not lie dead on the road with unplaited pigtails? And so that childhood would never again be called war-time childhood.” 21 likes
“Мама — это был мой мир. Моя планета. Если у меня даже что-то болело, возьмешься за мамину руку, и болеть перестает. Ночью я всегда спала рядышком с ней, чем теснее, тем меньше страха. Если мама близко, кажется, что все у нас, как раньше дома было. Закроешь глаза — никакой войны нет. Мама только не любила разговаривать о смерти. А я все время расспрашивала…” 2 likes
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