We often buried in the woods under the trees…Under the oaks, the birches….Even now I can’t go to the forest. Especially where there are old oaks or birches…I can’t sit there.
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, is a nonfiction book about the experiences of Soviet women who served during World War II.
I believe that when most people think about World War II, they envision abstract heroes of the Greatest Generation doing battle with the forces of evil in a good and just war. This book examines and challenges the very notion that any war can be considered “good.” The stories contained in this book are those of real people, not mythologized larger-than-life figures from the past. The book strips all of the glamour, all of the heroism, all of the myth out of war. What’s left are the realistic, essential truths of the experiences of war, spoken by its participants. This is not a dry history of formations and dates. It’s not a textbook that frames the conflict in its social, geopolitical, economic, or strategic-military context. This book is about the lice and blood and amputation and death and sacrifice and exhaustion and hunger and cold. It’s about the soldiers wanting to defend their country from invaders, protect their homes, and fight for their beliefs. It’s about how, forty years later, some of the fighters still can’t wear red clothing without having an allergic reaction to it, how they still wake up screaming, how they are still haunted by the dead.