This might be one of the hardest books I’ve ever read. True short stories from WWII told by over200 women? Sign me up.
Svetlana Alexievich won a Nobel Prize for literature, because she introduced us a whole new point of view on events, we probably heard many, many times before. This Ukrainian woman travelled the Soviet Union for years, recording stories of (not just, but mostly) female soldiers, who participated in WWII.
In the Soviet Union almost one million women enlisted in the army and fought alongside the men as medics, snipers, pilots, tank drivers, laundrywomen, postal workers, baker, mechanics and even captains between 1941 and 1945. The majority of these women were aged between 16 and 21.
“Who would want to know about those little things that only woman would notice? Tell them about victories and fights, not flowers or birds.” – censor editing the book in 80s.
Oh, sir, I NEED to hear those stories.
We read about nurses, who went straight into battlefield and dragged away dozens of wounded soldiers, tank drivers pulling out flaming bodies twice their weight out of tanks, partisans suffering for days on torturing devices, civilian mothers killing their own children in order to spare them from much worse and horrifying death.
We learn a lot about how the misery didn’t just end up with victory. The country was still filled with hidden bombs and landmines. “The worst death was after the victory. It’s like double death.” Also Stalin’s government turned entire war into story about heroes and villains and everyone who said something different was sent to prison for decades. These women were afraid to talk about truth for many years, fearing someone would report them to the police. Not just that, but government didn’t want women to be seen as heroes. Because women were “weak” and emotional, they had female bodies and needs. That’s not who heroes are.
The death in this book is so raw and uncensored, sometimes told with heart-breaking emotion and sometimes just as a dry memory. Murdered children, friends, lovers, parents. Severed body parts, the weight of clothes soaked by blood, smell of rotting human flesh. The hatred and the compassion for the enemy. Girls picking the flowers and putting them on graves. Stories of love. One girl fell in love and first time kissed her loved one, when he was lying dead on the ground. Mothers telling the story of leaving their children and sharing the pain of losing their families. “I couldn’t bury my own son, so I buried someone else’s.” Stories of daughters and mothers returning home to their families. Those were honestly breaking me in pieces internally.
But also we find cute stories about cats, suitcases filled with candies, wedding dress made of cotton bandage, 15 years old girls lying about her bad eyesight by learning all the letters on eye chart.
But these heroic women were often rejected after the war. Why? “Men want to look at gentle, fresh and happy girls. They want beauty in their lives. Not soldiers who wore dirty men’s clothes, had short hair and did men’s work for years.” Other women sometimes didn’t allow them to public female’s bathrooms. Called them whores, broken. Because they weren’t real women in their eyes. These soldiers hated getting their menstruation, but they hated not getting it anymore even more. They were surprised they could have children after war.
I’m pretty confident everyone should read this book. (The uncensored version, of course.) Maybe not whole, it’s pretty long, but definitely some stories from it. Kind of makes me wanna die and just lay down crying, but it’s worth it.
5/5 no regrets