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Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories

(Голоса утопии #2)

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4.48  ·  Rating details ·  4,107 ratings  ·  708 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
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Paperback, 320 pages
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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Average rating 4.48  · 
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Nataliya

"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 wa
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Diane S ☔
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
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
Chrissie
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”.
(From the GR book description.)

EVERYBODY should read or listen to this book. Perhaps those who do not want to read it, need to read it most.

The personal is revealed.
It is devoid of analysis.
It is devoid of blab.
It looks at the emotional and long-lasting consequences of war on a personal level.

Here is the nitty-gritty of war.

The book
...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
When I started this I was like "how could this be more brutal than Zinky Boys and Secondhand Time?" and friends, I was naive.
Beata
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disturbingly sad accounts by children who survived WW2 in the USSR.
Bjorn
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
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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
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Skip
Svetlana Alexievich won a Pulitizer Prize in Literature for this book, which is a first-hand account of the experiences of about one hundred different Russian children during WWII, ranging in age from ages 2-14. The vignettes average three pages. It's horrifying and the stories while different have common themes: bombings, starvation, trying to stay warm and move to safety, fathers heading off to war, mothers protecting as best they can or dying with the children being orphaned or passed along t ...more
cypt
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 neighbour
...more
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
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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
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wally
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alexievich
finished today the 5th of february 2020 good read four stars really liked it kindle library loaner first from alexievich...a nobel price winner i discover after completion...a bunch, a hundred? more? less? don't know the exact number and somewhere it said "oral history" but each telling is from someone who was a child at the beginning of the great patriotic war as they called it in the u.s.s.r. russia. a handful were real young, all varied in ages from 2-3-4 to teen years all told in their voice ...more
Jenia
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oof. I wanted to say something smarter but just oof.

[Read in Russian, can't comment on English translation.]
Marks54
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been reading a lot about the Russo-German war in WW2 but reading Grossman’s biography and by working through Life and Fate. When I saw Last Witnesses, it was a natural addition to my list. Svetlana Alexievich is a wonderful Nobel Prize winning author who wrote The Unwomanly Face of War about the role of women in the Russian war against the Nazis. Like that book, Last Witnesses is an oral history of the experiences of Russian children following the outbreak of war in June 1941. What she ha ...more
Joyce
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Powerful, immersive accounts, the memories of 101 adults recalling their childhood in the Soviet Union during World War II. All those interviewed--male and female, children of soldiers, partisans, and even gypsies--were under 15 during the war. Tales of violence--many saw their parents and family members killed before their eyes--of privation mix with stories of generosity, kindness, and resourcefulness. This oral history is meant to be heard, although the short accounts are probably better take ...more
Bonnye Reed
On August 23, 1939–shortly before World War II (1939-45) broke out in Europe–enemies Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union surprised the world by signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, in which the two countries agreed to take no military action against each other for the next 10 years. https://www.history.com/topics/world-....

In June of 1941, Germany began a quick rout through Mother Russia, both in the air and on the ground, killing everything in their path. This book by Svetlana Alexievic
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Karen Cowgill
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Started this book yesterday, and I had a hard time reading it. Just so SAD! I cried a lot, but I still give it 5 stars. It is a very good book, people should READ this book. It is about the war seen through the eyes of Soviet children. There are some wonderful moments, but, since it is about war it is very sad, too. Any one who loves history, should DEFINITELY read this book!! This book is from 1985 ( I think). The people in it are probably dead, that is why their voices NEED to be heard. I am s ...more
A. L. Sowards
Sep 30, 2019 marked it as skimmed-or-read-portions-of  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of memories by Soviets who were children during WWII. As you might guess, it's incredibly sad--absolutely heartbreaking. I listened to part of the audiobook and the narrations were very well done. There was so much evil and so much sorrow. But there were also incredible acts of kindness and generosity.

I only listened to about half of it. I do most of my audiobook listening while driving or cleaning, and I didn't want my four-year-0ld to listen with me. I plan to finish it at
...more
Nita Zogiani
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
While reading this book, I realized that I kept searching for my own war story in those of the four year olds and their experiences of war.

It’s difficult to rate this book, but I know it leaves me with Dostoyevsky’s question: can we justify our world, our happiness, and even eternal harmony, if in its name, to strengthen its foundation, at least one little tear of an innocent child will be spilled? And his own answer: this tear will never justify any progress, any revolution. Any war. It will al
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Cam
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There about 50 people that give their story of what happened to them as children during ww2 in Russia. It’s a very interesting book.... very touching!
Keen
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it

3.5 Stars!

“They counted off fourteen of those who stood nearest. Gave them shovels and ordered them to dig a hole. And we were driven closer, to watch them dig…They shot three people at a time. They stood at the edge of the hole and fired point-blank. The rest of us watched. I don’t remember parents saying farewell to their children or children to their parents…They shot fourteen people and began to fill up the hole. Again we stood and watched them cover the hole with earth, trample it with boot
...more
Ylva
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 the Soviet Union. 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 ...more
Mary Katerine
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not ready to write a proper review, but i will do this soon.
UPDATE:
It took me a couple of weeks to get the courage to write this review. Because, after I have finished reading it, I couldn't deal with what I have learned. I'm not even sure I can now, but I'll try.
My history teacher had this saying, that history repeats itself because we never learn from the past. I believe that we want to forget.
This wasn't your regular book about war. It didn't have a happy ending. Things didn't get better
...more
Isabelle
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
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.
J.A.
So devastating that I tried taking it in small doses over a long period of reading - until that developed into chronic pain. Then I just had to grit my teeth and push through the horrific experiences of children living through war.

"There are many monuments in Leningrad, but one that should be there is missing. We forgot about it. It's a monument to the dogs of the siege. My dear dog, forgive me ..."
- Galina Firsova (ten years old)
Zoe
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2019
Astounding. My book of the year.
Claire
Never having lived in a war zone, I was hardly prepared for these vignettes. I had to pause often as I read this collection of memories of those who were children during WWII. Amazingly, the style of each is poetic, so that I wondered to what extent Alexievich had edited them. (Of course what I read was a translation, but I am assuming the translator retained the style of the original.) That I even asked that question may have been a way to gain distance.

Alexievich, the bio says, has spent most
...more
Paul
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Last Witnesses, Unchildlike Stories – Haunting Witnesses of the Past

Svetlana Alexievich’s fantastic oral history of those witness to the invasion of what was the old Soviet Union. When in June 1941 the Germans entered the new Soviet Union via Eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus as they headed north to Leningrad, South to Stalingrad and towards Moscow.

See this war from a child’s point of view is haunting and insightful and strangely memorable. Like most historians there are plenty of post-it-notes n
...more
Cav
I am conflicted about how to rate this one... Last Witnesses is a compilation of dozens of first-hand accounts from children across Europe and Russia at the onset of, and during The Second World War.
Each story is fairly short; most covering only a few pages.
The accounts in the book are absolutely horrific; they are actually worse than can be imagined. The stories of wholesale human misery recounted here are unimaginably terrible...
Here's one that exemplifies this horror:
"...We lived outside
...more
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Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano Frankivsk, Ukraine. Her father was Belarusian and her mother Ukrainian. Alexievich grew up in Belarus, where both her parents were teachers. She studied to be a journalist at the University of Minsk and worked a teacher, journalist and editor. In Minsk she has worked at the newspaper Sel'skaja Gazeta, Alexievich's criticism of the political regimes in the Sovi ...more

Other books in the series

Голоса утопии (5 books)
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  • Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War
  • Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
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