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Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War

(Голоса утопии #3)

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  6,262 ratings  ·  870 reviews
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
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 30th 1992 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1989)
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 ·  6,262 ratings  ·  870 reviews

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Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Military History buffs
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. ...more
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
E. G.
From the Notebooks

--Boys in Zinc

Post Mortem
'Boys in Zinc' on Trial
PGR Nair
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Oct 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Vincent Di Caro
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
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Adam Dalva
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sean Blake
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: informatiivne
"It is a human right not to kill. Not to learn to kill. A right that is not recorded in a single constitution." ...more
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
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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.

Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who can read
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
Surabhi Chatrapathy
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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. ...more
Gopa Thampi
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jul 20, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian, non-fiction
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
Berit Lundqvist
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
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
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it

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
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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
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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)
  • War's Unwomanly Face
  • آخر الشهود
  • Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
  • Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

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