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One Soldier's War in Chechnya [Hardcover]

Arkady Babchenko
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Nov 2007
This is an outstanding dispatch from the frontline of war - unsparing, unsentimental, blackly comic and brutally beautiful - from an ordinary soldier who tells it like it is.This title features readers of contemporary reportage and war writing - from Herr and Kapuscinski to Swofford's "Jarhead" and Bowden's "Black Hawk Down"; plus lovers of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Babel, et al, Russophiles."I always thought that war was black and white. But it is colour."A compulsively readable, autobiographical account of life as a young soldier in Russia's Chechen wars, it takes the raw and mundane reality of days amid guns and grenades and twists it into compelling, chilling - and eerily elegant - prose. With unblinking honesty, Babchenko traces his journey from innocence to experience, beginning with his teenage arrival in the transit camp just north of Chechnya and harsh treatment by his seniors as a naive and scared new recruit, through to his period of active duty at the front, by which time, he has become a brutalized and hardened soldier.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (8 Nov 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846270391
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846270390
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 780,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'His account is vivid, stark and horrifying. The cruelty is all the more wrenching because of the moments of fleeting, lyrical beauty. Babchenko, like the best war reporters, is able to report war how it is, but also reflect on it... Babchenko's honesty is unblinking, his prose at times, unbearable. It is a tour de force.'
-- New Humanist

'I devoured ...Arkady Babchenko's quite extraordinary memoir, One Soldier's War in Chechnya...his book is truly shocking -- Catch-22 in slo-mo, as vivid as modern unedited TV news footage.' -- Dylan Jones, Spectator

'This is an exceptional book, and an important one. Babchenko has transcended reportage, and succeeded in turning his terrible war experiences into art.'
-- Virginia Rounding, Independent

`A devastating testimony from an extremely talented young writer'
-- Jo Glanville, New Statesman

`A hypnotic and terrifying account of enforced participation in the Chechen wars, one that is entirely free of self-absorbed razzle-dazzle and whose honesty has the force of a blunt object. It is simply a great book.'
-- Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down

`Remarkable - my book of the year.' -- Matthew Sweet, BBC Radio 3

`The most unsparing memoir I've seen - of any war.' -- John Lloyd, Financial Times

`a principled and unflinching exposé of Russia's conduct in the war...a work of both autobiography and the imagination, in the tradition of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 or Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.' -- Hugh Barnes, New Statesman

`illuminating and darkly humorous ... he is also capable of arresting lyricism' -- Sebastian Smith, Daily Telegraph

About the Author

ARKADY BABCHENKO was born in 1977. He fought as an 18-year-old conscript in the first Chechen War in 1996- 8 and then volunteered to return for six months in 2000 during the second Chechen War. A law graduate, he currently works in Moscow as a journalist on the oppositional newspaper Novaya Gazeta. This is his first book.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique Account of a Torturous War 14 Nov 2007
By D. Winchester VINE VOICE
The war in Chechnya, now in its second phase, is a special circumstance. Unlike Iraq, Kosovo or virtually any other modern conflict, the battle for Chechen independence goes unreported, ignored or winked at by governments the world over. Is it a fight against terrorism, or a small nation fighting for its independence? Few can say for sure, mostly due to the stranglehold the Russian government holds on the region. This is what makes this book so important.

Arkady Babchenko fought in both Chechnya wars before being demobilized in 2000; he later became a journalist with the non-conformist Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta (where he worked next to the since-murdered Anna Politkovskaya). This book collects his recorded memories of this most brutal of guerrilla wars, from New Years celebrations with rifles and condensed milk to the death of fellow soldier Yokovlev, who was `slit open like a tin of meat' by Chechen rebels and strangled with his own intestines. The tales are often brief, only sometimes extending to novella length, which works well as it encourages short reading bursts. It is a swift read and utterly gripping.

Russian history is full of horror stories, from the burning of Moscow to Stalingrad to the Gulag. Chechnya is the next, and Babchenko tells a tale as compellingly merciless as anything Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov or Beevor have offered. This is a unique book, delving into areas journalists can't and governments won't - you must read it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By J. Russ
After traveling in and out of Russia for many years, I have seen the absolute beauty of the landscape and the Cities and ever since I have been fascinated by Russian culture. However, when traveling you never realise the horrific under world that grips the country for instance, the murder of political opposition and the brutality that seems inherent in the Russian military system.

After reading all of the books published by Anna Politkovskaya,(another brilliant writer) you are introduced to the abhorrent and hidden world of Chechnya which appears to be hopeless. This book offers a different perspective on that horrific conflict and is so astoundingly graphic and personal that I could not put this book down and ended up reading the whole work in one go!

Even if you are not interested in Russia or Chechnya or even military literature, this is essential reading for everyone! It is so full of emotion and imagery that you are taken into a different world and you read in utter disbelief that it is actually non-fiction! I am 23 years old and kept picturing what I was doing at 18 or 19 (the author's age in the book) and realised that these Russian soldiers were subjected to the most unforgivable brutality which destroyed their youth and lives. It is impossible to believe that anything that makes a person human could survive such a place.

However, apart from the horrors, there is also amazing comradeship between the soldiers and all of the best parts of being human did survive in their relationship with each other on the front line.

This is by far the best book I have read this year! Let's hope Babchenko produces many more amazing works which also give us hope in humanity!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, and impressive 24 July 2009
I think the above comments give a good overview of this book. I would personally add that Babchenko's writing style is insightful, with elements of philosophising that I would suspect will likely more fully develop in later books. He is clearly an intelligent and talented writer.

What is such a painful revelation is his descriptions of personal experiences of 'Dedovschina' or 'beastings' he experienced at the hands of his Seniors as a Conscript in 1999. Stationed in Mozdok he suffered multiple and vicious assaults as did his friends. Broken jaws, eye sockets, noses, split lips and broken teeth are described through at least half of the book which in truth actually describes far more of these experiences than it does of his experiences of Chechnya.

Therein lies my one criticism, that he treats quite superficially, given his undoubted intellect, his experiences of Chechnya, and really leaves you none the wiser about the effects this place has had on him.
In this sense the book is a disappointment.
However all in all he is a talented writer and i think he will almost certainly write again showing the flashes of his depth of insight in fuller form. And for an insiders view of what it meant to be a Russian Conscript in those years it is an excellent read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Geneva Convention Here 13 Sep 2008
Gripping account of conscript Arkady Babchenko's struggle to survive as a conscript in the First Chechen War of 1995 and then as a battle-hardened volunteer in the second Chechen War in 1999.

The brutality of this little reported conflict permeates throughout the book where the soldiers fear of being killed was only superseeded by the fear of being captured by Chechen rebels. Not for the faint hearted either with detailed accounts of atrocities committed by both sides including the savage Russian reaction when they found several of their soldiers crucified.

Book is not really for anyone who wants detailed analysis of the Chechen campaigns. Reader is rarely above the sub-unit level where even the soldiers never seem to know what's going on around them. It's hard not to empathise with their predicament and the appalling treatment metted out to them even by their own superiors.

Overall, well worth a read of what essentially is a first hand, no holds barred account of a truly disturbing and brutal conflict
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars a rambling work of fiction
The book is by the authors own admission a work of fiction. The events are as he says an amalgam of various events both that he saw and hearsay from others and poetic licence. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mr. Nj Mcallister
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
I really like this book. Recommend to anyone who is interested in russian soldiers personal experiences in russian chechen war.
Published 15 months ago by Rytis
5.0 out of 5 stars UNFORGETABLE !!
Probably the most important book i have ever read, it drew me in and wouldn,t let go of my throat until i got to the last page. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Reads like Sven Hassell,
One Soldier's War tells of Arkady Babchenko's experiences having been conscripted into the Russian army to fight in the Chechen wars. Read more
Published on 19 April 2011 by Crookedmouth
5.0 out of 5 stars What this book is and what it isn't
This is an account of the experiences of one idealistic young Russian, who went voluntarily to fight in the first Chechen war, being actually exempt from conscription due to being... Read more
Published on 1 Dec 2010 by Alexa
4.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable, a compelling read
This is an extraordinary book, its raw and incredibly brutal, and that's just the first chapter describing the conscripts introduction to Russian bootcamp. Read more
Published on 1 Nov 2009 by Judi d
5.0 out of 5 stars No punches pulled
This is a book that grips from the first page to the last. Yes it is disjointed at times and the chronology of events is unclear - I can excuse that because the book is more than... Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2009 by cholser
5.0 out of 5 stars The Other Side of the Story
I have seen and read a fair amount on the Chechnya War and, although I have seen the majority from the Chechnyian side, it was good to see the other side of the coin and not only... Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2009 by Keith Markillie
5.0 out of 5 stars Shattering
Arkady Babchenko's 'One Soldiers War in Chechnya' is one of the most brutally honest war literature I've read. Read more
Published on 29 Jan 2008 by Blackhawk
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant!
I have to say that this is an absolutely amazing account of the `Dirty War' in Chechnya. Reading this stirred up so many different emotions for me. Read more
Published on 26 Jan 2008 by R. J. Pickett
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