Elise Stokes's Reviews > Walking Out of War

Walking Out of War by Scott Bury
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it was amazing
bookshelves: war-non-fiction

I was offered a free copy of “Walking Out Of War” in exchange for an honest review. It was a privilege to read the third installment in Scott Bury’s tribute to his father-in-law, Maurice Bury, in which he chronicles and commemorates Maurice’s experiences in the Soviet Red Army during World War II.

The final book in Bury’s trilogy opens with Maurice in his mother’s field in western Ukraine, smoking and savoring the sunshine, as he surveys their growing sugar beet crop in a rare peaceful moment. He leans against a fence post, closes his eyes, and meditates on his harrowing escape from a POW camp and his involvement with the secret resistance. As he speculates Ukraine’s chances of gaining independence from the USSR, rough hands seize his arms, and he opens his eyes to members of Stalin’s secret police. He is pulled to a covered truck and forced into the back with other young male captives who’d also been abducted to serve in the Red Army. In the shocking turn of events, Maurice finds himself back in the army that he had deserted, a fact that if discovered would mean his life.

“Walking Out Of War” is a well-written and powerful read, and a difficult one. The violence and war crimes are startling, and Bury, being a master at his craft, effectively paints mental pictures. He doesn’t linger on vile acts, however; he isn’t gratuitous. But he is a vivid writer and skilled at choosing the right verbs and adjectives to bring his prose to life, where the reader can visualize scenes as if watching them on film. The following excerpt was one of the scenes that I could envision and that my mind just sort of got stuck on for awhile:

“The quartermaster’s men were distributing breakfast, tea and bread. Maurice pulled on his coat, watching a teenaged private carrying a big jug across what had been a farmer’s field. He heard the shot a split second after he saw the back of the boy’s head explode. Maurice hit the ground before the poor teenager’s body did.”

The crimes committed by the Red Army soldiers against German civilians after Germany’s surrender are extremely upsetting. I was aware of the assaults, rape, and pillaging. But reading facts in a textbook is much different than having a talented writer reconstruct an eyewitness’s account. Again, Bury doesn’t linger on horrific acts. He paints a memorable glimpse, then hops Maurice’s eyes to another occurrence to take in. Here are a couple glimpses that struck and stuck with me:

“He passed groups of soldiers drinking beer. Along one less-damaged street, more GIs smoked at open-air cafés and bars, chatting up pretty young girls with haunted eyes.”

“He made his way back to the centre of Berlin, occupied by the Soviet Red Army. The city looked unreal, a living nightmare of blasted buildings, cratered streets and military vehicles. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from around the world jammed the streets. Maurice dodged as an American jeep roared down the centre of a cleared street, swerving drunkenly from one side to the other, narrowly missing twisted lampposts. He saw grinning GIs and two desperate-looking young women, their blouses blowing open. The men held bottles of wine.”

Though these crimes are disturbing, they also really happened, and for those of us who haven’t experienced the atrocities of war, we need these glimpses and knowledge of our human history— the good, the bad, and the ugly. That said, due to the nature of the content and language, I don’t recommend this trilogy to young readers. Educate them instead with Anne Frank: The Dairy of a Young Girl, Mischling: Second Degree by Ilsa Koehn, and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. These three firsthand accounts had a great impact on me as a young teenager.

Scott Bury, thank you for preserving Maurice’s experiences for us all. They will stick with me, just as Anne Frank’s, Corrie Ten Boom’s, and Ilsa Koehn’s have, as well as a quote that I’d first read when I was sixteen: “Those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 11, 2017 – Shelved
February 11, 2017 – Shelved as: war-non-fiction

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