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The Stalin Organ [Paperback]

Gert Ledig , Michael Hofmann
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Jun 2004
"The Stalin Organ" - a slang military term for a multiple rocket launcher - is the first of Gert Ledig's triad of books on World War II, written in swift succession in the 1950s. Switching between the German and Russian lines, Ledig brings us the experience of war from both sides of the conflict, as the two armies tensely hold out for the other side to give. He describes in horrifying detail the graphic and resourceful violence that maims and kills the barely individuated soldiers.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (24 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862076529
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862076525
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,142,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An...expertly written narrative which describes the atrocity of battle in a dispassionate style and with a sense of immediacy.' -- Frankfurter Neue Presse

‘An almost forgotten masterpiece...the near perfect objectivity of the language makes the horror all the more immediate’ -- Passauer Neue Presse

‘In The Stalin Organ Ledig has written an absolutely authentic and powerful account of the horrors encountered in war’ -- Sparticus Schoolnet.co.uk

‘Ledig’s shifting narrative, and ability to capture the essence of chaos...make his novel an important contribution to war literature’ -- TLS

‘This tremendous read does much to reinforce the concept of the war zone as the ultimate setting for fiction’ -- The Herald (Glasgow)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cry woe, destruction, ruin, and decay 29 Nov 2005
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
The worst is death, and death will have his day.
Shakespeare, Richard II.
Death had more than its share of days on the Eastern Front and it is those days during the battle of Leningrad in 1942 that provide the background for Gert Ledig's "The Stalin Organ", first published in Germany in 1955.
Gert Ledig was born in Germany in 1921 and enlisted in the German army in 1939, at age 18. He was wounded seriously during the Battle of Leningrad and was sent back to Germany to work as an engineer. While back in Germany he lived through some of the horrifying air raids unleashed on Germany by the Allies. His experiences in Leningrad found their way into The Stalin Front and his experiences during the air raids informed his other major work "Payback".
It should probably be noted at the outset that the title "Stalin Front" is a bit misleading. The original title in German, "Die Stalinorgel" literally translates into English as the "Stalin Organ", a slang military term for the katyusha rockets that rained death and destruction upon German troops throughout the war. The title is important because the rockets themselves are present throughout the book and serve almost as a deathly Greek-chorus as the story proceeds.
Ledig's writing is direct, brutal, and often poetic despite the horrors he portrays. The book opens with the following: "The Lance-Corporal couldn't turn in his grave, because he didn't have one. Some three versts [a verst is about ¾ of a mile] from Podrova, forty versts south of Leningrad, he had been caught in a salvo of rockets, been thrown up in the air, and with severed hands and head dangling, been impaled on the skeletal branches of what once had been a tree.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Total, utter hopelessness 9 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback
`Stalin Organ' describes two, almost arbitrary, days at the Eastern front. Two days in a war that lasted almost two thousand days. It's late summer. A marshy, drab area in the shadow of an insignificant hill somewhere in Russia (we don't really know where; the places are as far as I understand fictitious).

The story starts with an orderly's two-hour trek, at twilight, from advanced positions to a command post behind the lines. A journey of Dantesque proportions: machine gun, katyusha and battery fire, the eerie glow of tracer bullets and flares, the threat of snipers, mounds of disfigured corpses, mines, mud, a Russian captive hanging from a tree, an odorless field kitchen ... By the time he arrives in the village we know this book will not ingratiate itself with us with a glimmer of hope.

There are several protagonists. The men on both sides have been reduced to dumb, anonymous creatures, propelled forward by fear and loathing. The homeland is all but absent. It doesn't seem to matter to the soldiers. Faces of spouses and kids have disappeared from memory. Self-preservation is the only mantra. Several figures drift into sight and away, many of them nameless, only known by their rank. Most of them die.

Nature is mutely, primevally impassive under the incessant bombardments. It has been reduced to the basic elements: mud, water, fire, and an air heavy with the smell of cordite and bodies. Swamps engulf men and armored vehicles. The sun just speeds up the decomposition of corpses.

Murderous technology itself becomes a protagonist: the hulking, animal-like threat of the tanks, the wild and extraordinary carnage inflicted by the Stalin Organ, the fury of the Stuka dive bombers.

The Russians attack early in the next morning.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A trip to hell 13 April 2005
By RM
Format:Paperback
The action takes place somewhere near Leningrad in 1942. You've got Germans in one corner and Russions on the other, and the last ones are going to try to breatch the german lines. This book is about the worse things in war: the suffering, the lack of hope, wishing that the bullit fired from the oder side is going to hit the friend next to you, thus letting you live. There are no heros, no longer ideals or big racionals that justifies the horror of a war. Gert Ledig has a supperb writting style and in this book you get not only the perfect picture of what a horribile thing war is, but also how horrible it is to be in one. He uses the eyes of 4 or 5 charachters on both side o the conflit to let you see the pain, the futility and the non-human side of all that business. No sides taken, no big morals. It's the human vs. animal side in each one of us, when madness, hate and death are uppon us. This book is a 5 star and if, on the end, you still like wars, seak professional help.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Cemetery Ridge" & "Little Round Top" Revisited 3 Sep 2010
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Gert Ledig's horrific portrayal of a battle in the trenches, between German and Russian forces near Leningrad in 1942, in which a humanly insignificant hill position near an exposed swamp was the site of ghastly slaughter and anguish, bears an uncanny resemblance to accounts, both verified and fictional, of the battles for Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top at Gettysburg in the American Civil War. The similarities are to be found chiefly in the desperate sufferings, both physical and mental, of the men on both sides. At Gettysburg, at least 8000 soldiers were killed outright on the battlefield, with as many as 50,000 gravely wounded or missing, roughly a third of all combatants and well over a third of all the officers of the rebel Confederate States army. The weaponry of the Civil War was not archaic; artillery makers had been highly stimulated by 'demand' and one could arguably claim that the Civil War was the first ever fought with really potent "weapons of mass destruction".

The "Stalin Organ" of Ledig's title was a weapon of clumsy mass destruction, a rocket launcher with multiple barrels. It was crude but effective, and much of the gore on both sides of the 'front' resulted from incessant, blind bombardment by artillery. The first machine guns had been developed in the American Civil War, but by World War II their design had made terrifying advances; machine gun fire rips through every paragraph of 'Die Stalinorgel'. Aerial flares and balloon observation had also appeared in the Civil War, but they were childish sparklers compared to the fearsome flares than illuminate the terrified faces, German and Russian, in Ledig's depiction of this stubborn battle between two companies of men deemed dispensable by commanders far out of hearing of their screams. And then there came the airplanes, the dive bombers of the Luftwaffe.

The exponential growth of the power of mass destruction is a salient difference between the Battle of Gettysburg and the battle of Leningrad. Almost as a corollary, the soldiers of the former have "lived on" as heroic names, known to school children 150 years later, though the losers have better memories than the winners. The staunch courage of the First Minnesota Volunteers at Cemetery Ridge and of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top has been celebrated, along with the futile self-sacrifice of Confederate troops in 'Pickett's Charge." The commander of the 20th Maine, Joshua Chamberlain, lived to become the icon of heroism in the post-war Union. As a very telling contrast, in Die Stalinorgel there are few names of individuals, and those few are chiefly among the Russians. The Germans are strongly individuated; their pre-war backgrounds crop up in their moments of horror. We 'see' their personalities, but they are identified only by the ranks - NCO, Corporal, Captain, Commander, und so weiter. There are no heroes; there are only casualties and survivors, both accidental, both demolished as human beings. Unless informed by 'history', one can't even be sure whether the battle was in any way conclusive, whether the bloodbath was 'tactically' worthwhile to either side.

Gert Ledig wrote three "war" books, of which Die Stalinorgel was the first. It was briefly well-received but then neglected, as were the two subsequent books. I've already reviewed his second book, Vergeltung, titled "Payback" in English. Die Stalinorgel is not as consummately written as Vergeltung. There are passages that seem melodramatic in Die Stalinorgel; nevertheless, the total book is remarkably 'tight' and almost symmetrical, for a depiction of mayhem. Ledig was writing out of experience. He was there, a soldier under fire at the battle of Leningrad, and a human trapped in a city under carpet bombardment, the horrible scene of Vergeltung. His prose is taut, harsh, merciless to the reader's sensibilities, yet also astoundingly poetic at times, making a kind of verbal beauty out of barbed wire and severed limbs. Once again I'm reminded of the American catastrophe of 1861-65; the great novel of that war was Stephen Crane's "Red Badge of Courage", written like Die Stalinorgel many years after the fighting stopped. The newer book sheds light on the older -- magnifies its meanings -- and vice-versa. Both are unanswerable denunciations of the stupidity and corruption of war.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Total, utter hopelessness 9 Jun 2011
By Philippe Vandenbroeck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book describes two, almost arbitrary, days at the Eastern front. Two days in a war that lasted almost two thousand days. It's late summer. A marshy, drab area in the shadow of an insignificant hill somewhere in Russia (we don't really know where; the places are as far as I understand fictitious).

The story starts with an orderly's two-hour trek, at twilight, from advanced positions to a command post behind the lines. A journey of Dantesque proportions: machine gun, katyusha and battery fire, the eerie glow of tracer bullets and flares, the threat of snipers, mounds of disfigured corpses, mines, mud, a Russian captive hanging from a tree, an odorless field kitchen ... By the time he arrives in the village we know this book will not ingratiate itself with us with a glimmer of hope.

There are several protagonists. The men on both sides have been reduced to dumb, anonymous creatures, propelled forward by fear and loathing. The homeland is all but absent. It doesn't seem to matter to the soldiers. Faces of spouses and kids have disappeared from memory. Self-preservation is the only mantra. Several figures drift into sight and away, many of them nameless, only known by their rank. Most of them die.

Nature is mutely, primevally impassive under the incessant bombardments. It has been reduced to the basic elements: mud, water, fire, and an air heavy with the smell of cordite and bodies. Swamps engulf men and armored vehicles. The sun just speeds up the decomposition of corpses.

Murderous technology itself becomes a protagonist: the hulking, animal-like threat of the tanks, the wild and extraordinary carnage inflicted by the Stalin Organ, the fury of the Stuka dive bombers.

The Russians attack early in the next morning. We know very little, if anything, about the wider strategic setting for the attack. It's just war. At the end of the book we don't know who won or lost.

It is Ledig's prose that makes this book so compelling. Describing the horrors of war can easily become drably crude or insincerely moralizing. Ledig doesn't explain, doesn't judge; he registers, with uncanny precision, in staccato prose. The scene constantly shifts. Wherever Ledig takes us, death is pervasive. As a reader we can only helplessly follow his gaze, gasping at the unfathomable scope of destruction.

`Stalin Organ' is an even more chilling work than Payback, Ledig's graphic account of a firestorm bombing on a German city. Whilst in `Payback' death falls almost abstractly from the air, in the trench warfare the opponents are looking each other in the eye. As a result, soldiers are exposed to a much greater variety of acute existential dilemmas (do I fight to the last bullet, shoot myself, shoot my commander, shoot my terminally suffering mate, do I surrender, desert?) Also, the action unfolds over a longer period of time and a larger territory, lending the story an ominous ebb and flow which was absent in `Payback's short, extremely violent crescendo. And then there is the contrast between the stupidity and opportunism of the higher ranks and the unbearable plight of the foot soldier at the sharp end of the action. Sometimes the most dangerous enemy is on your side.

I was deeply touched by this book.
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