I read a lot, anyone who has read this blog will know that. I always have several books on the go and try to have a diverse selection of subjects and authors. Being a member of the Lit and Phil in Newcastle helps enormously and during the pandemic the amount of books I have been getting through has increased dramatically. At the moment, among others, I am working through the canons of both Andrea Camilleri and Doris Lessing.
I enjoy most books I read, there is always something to come out of a book that is worthwhile, yet every once in a while along comes a book which means so much more to me. So it was with ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’ by Svetlana Alexievich.
This is not necessarily the kind of book I would pick up but was leant to by one of my daughters. She clearly understands my taste in books better than I do.
It is not a work of fiction, indeed there is no real narrative to the book. Instead it is a collection of snippets of conversations and interviews between the author and women who fought for Russia against the Germans in the Second World War. I knew that women had fought in the Russian Army but did not realise to what extent nor at what great cost. Despite the rhetoric from our corner of the world, the Russians played a vital part in defeating fascism in Europe and allowing us to lead a better, more free life in the West. We owe them, including the women who fought, a huge debt of gratitude.
The author makes no comment and no judgement. There is no glorification of justification. Instead she curates the contributions beautifully, in all their brutality, sadness and hope. They are amazing tales of humanity told by women who have been there.
If you get a chance you must read this book.