(K. Brent Tomer),
The Unwomanly Face of War. By Svetlana Alexievich. Random House; 384 pages; $30. Penguin Modern Classics; 331 pages; £12.99.
“I AM writing a book about war,” Svetlana Alexievich noted in her diary in 1978. Russian does not have definite and indefinite articles, but Ms Alexievich, at the time a 30-year-old Soviet author, born to a Belarusian father and a Ukrainian mother, did not need one. There was only one war, defining the country at the cost of 20m lives: the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.
There had been many accounts, but Ms Alexievich’s “The Unwomanly Face of War”, published in 1985 and released this week in its first post-Soviet English edition, was unusual: an oral history told by women who enlisted in the army straight after school, learning to kill and die before they learned to live or give life. Some tales were blood-curdling—like that of a 16-year-old nurse who bit off the smashed arm of a wounded soldier to save his life,…Continue reading