Study of the northern border regions of the Qing Dynasty, in what would now be Mongolia and northeast China. Tracks the trade in furs, pearls, and musStudy of the northern border regions of the Qing Dynasty, in what would now be Mongolia and northeast China. Tracks the trade in furs, pearls, and mushrooms, and the Qing Dynasty's attempts at environmental regulation. These policies were established well before the establishment of scientific ecology, and were rooted in the romanticized version of the steppes and ethnic Manchu self-conception.
I appreciate these developments in Qing history of consulting Manchu and Mongol sources, and seeing that an 'environmental history' is not necessarily confined to 19th century Naturalism (though there is some overlap). Likewise, the ideas of an unspoiled steppe are ones that influence Mongolians and Chinese people today - both in economic planning and in popular culture (see the runaway bestseller Wolf Totem for an example in China.) ...more
This is first real translation of Alexievich's first published book into English - an earlier effort was from a Soviet publishing house, which amputatThis is first real translation of Alexievich's first published book into English - an earlier effort was from a Soviet publishing house, which amputated the book through censorship.
If in the days of the old Soviet Union, you referred to 'the war', there could only be one war. The Great Patriotic War, as it is still called, burned and ravaged the countryside and left casualties in the tens of millions. It still defines Russia to this day - every town still has its memorials, political enemies are still as 'fascists', the Victory Day parade still takes place in Moscow every May.
Alexievich is known for her chronicling of disasters - the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Chernobyl nuclear accident, even the collapse of the Soviet Union, which many still think a disaster. Her great ability is not just in writing, but in coaxing out those stories where the witness does not want to speak, out of shame, out of trauma, out of a duty to be silent. She interviews several hundred women in this book, and yet there is an unusual consistency in tone between them. It is likely that she tidied up the interviews, removed a few repeated words, even though she leaves pauses in, represented with ellipses. Instead, we see the same phrases, the same motivations, as the memories of these women are their own battlefields, where they are both the product of the events the experienced, and the history which was written during and after the war to justify and frame what they had done.
But to the war itself. Almost a million women served in the Red Army. Many were in 'support' or logistics, the things that make an army move. These were laundrywomen, postal workers, mechanics. But there was such a great need, and the men of the Red Army were so often cut down like grass before death's scythe (sent with a grenade only into machine-gun nests, says one), that it only made sense that women joined the front lines as snipers, pilots, medics. One amputated a man's arm with her teeth when they couldn't use their saw. Another saved drivers from burning tanks with her bare hands, never mind her own arms were burning. A third had her first kiss with her lover as he lies dead in a trench. Yet for all the senseless, random, ear-thrumming violence, they very rarely felt reservations. They all threw themselves into defending their homes and what they knew. There are rare interstitial moments of compassion and humaneness. Some of the girls yearn for a dress instead of the tunic and uniform boots. A stern political commissar who was said to never smile gives all 'her girls' a gift of German sewing machines after the war.
And yet another facet of Alexievich's retelling is how she crashes headlong into the old myths of Soviet history. Even right after the war, Stalin was eager to turn the story into one of supernatural heroes, Stakhanovite shock warriors, and sent many of his own loyal soldiers to the Gulag. The war was turned into a prop for the system, a means of legitimizing glory. As if there is glory in gangrene, swamp mud, and amputation without anesthetic. And for these women, the censors were so ready to talk about extraordinary heroes and shedding the fascists' blood, and yet scandalized by menstruation (which is painful and bloody but at least nobody dies). They balked at the thought of this 'primitive naturalism' not making women into heroes. Would that really dissuade women from fighting? Would that detail really shatter the myth? These are still women of flesh and blood. If anything, they are fighting for that place in historical memory - these are ordinary people who have lived through the most savage points in history and fought, if only to defend their homes and families and everything they knew from extermination.
The war ended in Europe in May 1945, and it is still for now in living memory. The Russian successor state is of course eager to parade it around. The War is still the central image of how it sees itself, how it defines itself in a historical context. Its enemies are still fascists, occupying forces become anti-fascist liberators, Stalin becomes an embodiment of Russian nationalism even after the state is captured by business oligarchs. This phenomenon is the microcosm of great power politics - where powerful nations seek to cast themselves as wronged victims of history, ready to claim some ill-defined past. She, in giving a voice to this marginalized voice in the world's greatest conflict, speaks truth to the official story told by power.
Some minor quirks - the translators have rendered the name of the city Kiev, where the official spelling is Kyiv. Zhytomyr is written Zhitomir, etc. But really, if that is all I can find 'wrong' are minor quirks from translating out of Russian, then there is little to criticize. Then the book does so much else with wonder....more
Revisionist study of the government of Vietnam, disregarding the old American view of them as non-aligned like Tito or intensely pragmatic realists. IRevisionist study of the government of Vietnam, disregarding the old American view of them as non-aligned like Tito or intensely pragmatic realists. Instead, the author suggests that their view was firmly wedded to the ideological framing of Marxism-Leninism, which led them to their greatest military successes and most catastrophic economic failures.
I admit I'm not entirely convinced by the explanations, especially as one could come up with different justifications for the government's actions under the strict rules of power politics. But these terms and concepts were at least used in public statements to justify their actions, as well as an early framework for the old guard of leadership who had gone to the Soviet Union. But now the Soviet Union is gone, China has taken the Dengist path, and the CPV are left to define their brand of socialism after the Doi moi reforms as whatever they want it to mean. ...more